The curious collection of a slightly mad scientist
… Just before 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 29th, 2014, the Williams Fire Department along with several other area agencies were dispatched to the Wilbur Hot Springs Lodge for a possible structure fire.
Wilbur Hot Springs owner Dr. Richard Miller, his wife Jolee and daughter Sarana Miller, and friend Bruce Blake were eating breakfast in the dining hall at around 9:45 a.m. when a guest approached them to say he smelled smoke upstairs. All four rushed to the scene, accompanied by a few others, and found one of the west-side rooms on fire. They attempted to battle the blaze with fire extinguishers but the smoke and flames spread rapidly. Within minutes, the entire upstairs was engulfed in flames.
Wilbur Hot Springs main lodge building the day following the devastating fire. (Source: Facebook-Wilbur Hot Springs)
“I was in the building the morning of the fire,” said Shelia Shrum a visitor to the lodge, “I brought an extinguisher to the men on the second floor who were attempting to fight the blaze.”
Following training procedures, staff evacuated the hotel and guided guests to safety a quarter mile from the blaze. Dr. Miller and some staff used fire hoses to try to continue to fight the fire.
One man is believed to have escaped the blaze on the second floor by exiting a window onto a nearby tree.
Approximately 60 guests were at the resort at the time of the fire, everyone evacuated unharmed.
Dr. Miller was determined to save his beloved hotel and was forcibly pulled from the scene by his daughter Sarana, who witnesses said saved his life.
By the time firefighters arrived, the hotel was beyond saving and began to mitigate the damage and secure the buildings surrounding the hotel.
Due to the resorts severe remote location and the difficulty moving fire equipment along muddy, slippery dirt roads, it took fire crews nearly 30 minutes to arrive on scene.
The fire is believed to have started in a bedroom on the second floor, by a malfunctioning gas heater.
“Though that is a theory; however, the exact cause of the fire is still under investigation,” said a Williams Fire Department representative.
When fire crews extinguished the blaze, and the smoke settled, what remained was the charred ground floor and original cement structure of the lodge.
Photo of the Wilbur Springs Lodge after its completion in 1915. (Courtesy Photo)
The concrete hotel structure was built after the fire of 1915 by then-owner J.W. Cuthbert. This was the first known poured concrete building in California.
The property changed hands several times and was purchased in disrepair in 1972 by Dr. Miller, a psychologist who was seeking a place to create a therapeutic environment for people to heal themselves through exposure to nature and soaking in the sulfur and lithium-rich hot springs waters.
Fire agencies that responded and provided mutual aid included: Williams, Maxwell, Sacramento River Fire (Colusa), Capay Valley Fire, and North Shore Fire Departments.
The hotel was a complete loss and was not insured.
There has been an outpouring of community support worldwide in response to the fire. Community members may make contributions to a fund for rebuilding and staffing. There will also be ways for people to volunteer for the clean-up and rebuilding effort. …
A fire raged through the historic lodge at Wilbur Hot Springs on Saturday, destroying much of the funky retreat in rugged Colusa County that’s provided solace for legions of harried and achy Bay Area residents.
The fire, reported around 10 a.m., ravaged the two-story lodge, a rustic wooden structure built in 1863 and remodeled in the 1970s. The fire apparently started in the kitchen and quickly engulfed the second floor.
“It’s still standing, but there’s definitely some work to be done,” said Kent Boes, a firefighter with the Williams Fire Protection Authority, a volunteer crew that helped douse the flames.
The facility’s owners could not be reached for comment, but the website says the retreat is closed, staff is not taking reservations and the phones are down.
Firefighters evacuated about 60 people from the retreat. No one was injured, Boes said.
Fans of Wilbur’s quiet isolation and age-old healing baths were devastated by the news.
“It had an intangible peacefulness about it,” said Ray Yokoi, a yoga instructor from Oakland who frequented Wilbur. “People were very respectful, and the staff was attentive. It had a Zen-like feel, but without a bunch of Buddha statues.”
For centuries, American Indians attributed healing powers to the bubbling, scalding springs along Sulphur Creek.
In the mid-1800s, settlers built a hotel and resort at Wilbur, capitalizing on the hot-springs rage that captivated wealthy pleasure-seekers in San Francisco and beyond.
But local residents, as well, loved Wilbur.
Billijean Durst, secretary of the Colusa County Historical Society, remembers picnics and overnights there as a kid.
“My parents went there, too. And their parents before them,” she said. “People said if you took the hot baths, it’d be good for arthritis. … Plus it was nice to get away from the valley sometimes.”
Wilbur Hot Springs is about 2 1/2 hours north of San Francisco, 22 miles west of Williams, in the oak-filled foothills of the Coast Range. The retreat includes a bevy of clothing-optional hot baths, cool springs and saunas, flanked by decks offering mountain views.
Richard Miller, a San Francisco psychologist, bought Wilbur in the 1970s and transformed it into a therapeutic retreat for those interested in Gestalt and other consciousness- raising techniques.
The lodge included a wraparound porch, about 20 guest rooms, several shared bathrooms and a communal kitchen. The dining room was filled with simple wooden furniture and old black-and-white photos, creating a cozy feel, Yokoi said.
“You’d end up sharing food and conversations with people,” he said. “It was a comfortable setting, but also very natural.”
The property also includes a 1,560-acre nature preserve, as well as numerous outbuildings, all of which were spared in the fire, Boes said.
Wilbur had a fire scare in August 2012 when the Walker Fire roared through the Coast Range, narrowly missing the retreat, thanks to firefighters’ efforts.
Several of the Williams volunteer firefighting crew spent Saturday night at Wilbur to make sure the flames did not reignite.
“We saw a few glows and got them out,” Boes said. “The staff were so appreciative. They invited us back to use the hot springs some day. I plan on it.”
The new message says, “We are not currently taking reservations; the hotel is temporarily closed and the phones are down.”
I don’t have any information beyond this, but the hotel let a few people know that they will not be open to guests in the near future. The main hotel phone number doesn’t have anything about any problems. The web site says, “We are not currently taking reservations; the hotel is temporarily closed.”
I hope all the staff and guests are safe. The nature preserve surrounding Wilbur Hot Springs is a truly beautiful place to hike.
Post a comment if you have any info.
Updated comment 3/31:
Very glad no one was hurt! What a horrible loss. That picture really makes my hear sink.
The last time I was there was the day some new gas heaters were put in. A wall behind the newest heater in the entryway near the kitchen was hot and I made a big deal about fire potential to the staff at the time. I went to the front desk and told them I wanted my concern put in writing.