Fire burns iconic Burntside boathouse

by Nick Wognum
An iconic boathouse on Burntside Lake along with two cabins burned early Sunday morning. The large four stall boathouse had a deck on top and was located on what is known as Waters Island.
The fire started at a ground level transformer from a power line that runs under the lake. The property owners attempted to douse the flames with fire extinguishers but to no avail.
Two of the island residents were treated and released by Ely Area Ambulance which was at the staging area at Burntside Lodge.
With a strong wind from the east, the fire rapidly progressed to the boathouse and cabins.
Morse-Fall Lake fire chief Ted Krueger said the initial page was for a transformer fire but once they could see the flames additional pages went out to the Ely and Babbitt fire departments.
“We responded with our fire boat and we paged Ely for manpower and Babbitt for their fire boat and manpower,” said Krueger.
Bobbi Coppola said there were six adults on the island at the time of the fire, about 5:15 a.m.
“All safe. Started in the power company transformer,” Coppola posted online.
The island is in shared ownership with the McMurray and Coppola families of Des Moines, IA who purchased it in 1978.
“We saw and smelled smoke from transformer. Then flames broke out. Regular extinguishers made no difference,” she wrote.
Firefighters left from Burntside Lodge and set up along the shore with pumps to fight the blaze.
“We set up and attacked from the safest point possible which was the dock and worked from the back of the fire forward,” said Krueger. “We couldn’t safely get in front of the fire due to the smoke and the heat and the rapid expanse of the fire. As more resources showed up we were able to get more water on the fire. But, it was very windy.”
The U.S. Forest Service deployed a crew to keep the fire from spreading on the island.
Krueger said there were four portable pumps deployed to battle the structural fires but it’s still not the same as having a fire engine on scene.
“Being an island fire it’s hard to do fire suppression on a structure like you normally would with a fire engine because you’re limited on what you can haul across the lake,” said Krueger.
Morse-Fall Lake’s fire boat has a pump that can pump 400 gallons a minute from the lake.
The fire engulfed the boathouse which had a livable residence in it along with two of the cabins on the property. A third cabin and a sauna were untouched.
Coppola posted their had been a sauna fire on the island around 10 years ago “it was rebuilt immediately and survived today’s fire.”
Coppola thanked the fire department, the Forest Service and those who have expressed their sympathies.
“We are heartbroken but grateful that my six 70-plus year old siblings and spouses survived without harm when this fire broke out in the transformer…the sign on our island has said Stone Harbor under the American flag and in the red, green and blue harbor lights ever since. Maybe after this it will be remembered as such. We will rebuild,” she wrote.
Krueger said the location and strong winds made it a difficult fire to battle. He returned to the scene later in the day to douse some hot spots.
“We were also very grateful for Burntside Lodge’s cooperation throughout the fire,” said Krueger.