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Fire destroys lodge at Glorieta; all guests evacuated safely

GLORIETA, N.M.(BP)–A fire started by a faulty electric blanket destroyed Cedar Lodge at Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center in the early hours of June 21, but the 65 teenage girls and their sponsors staying in the building were evacuated to safety.
“We’re so grateful the Lord gave safety to everyone involved,” John Horton, director of operations at Glorieta, told Baptist New Mexican editor John Loudat who visited the scene of the fire Sunday afternoon. Lodge guests suffered no injuries other than a few “stubbed toes and such” as they rushed from the building.
The guests staying in Cedar Lodge were attending one of 10 weeklong Centrifuge youth camps held each summer at the conference center. They are members of four Southern Baptist churches: Eastside Baptist Church, Fort Smith, Ark.; First Baptist Church, Belen, N.M.; First Baptist Church, Mineral Wells, Texas; and College Place Baptist Church, Monroe, La.
Glorieta is one of two national conference centers owned and operated by LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly Sunday School Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Horton said a few of the guests returned home after the fire, but most were moved to other lodging on campus. Baptist Book Store manager Mike Goff provided sweatshirts and other clothing items from the store to guests who escaped the lodge with only the clothes they were wearing. The conference center provided transportation to Santa Fe and some funds toward purchase of needed items. Conference center insurance will cover the loss of guests’ personal belongings.
A smoke alarm alerted the youth and adult in the room where the fire had broken out at the foot of the bed shortly about 1:40 a.m. While an effort was made to extinguish the flames, Horton said the priority was to get everyone out of the building.
He expressed amazement at the sight of the flames “going straight up,” barely scorching trees in front of the lodge. “We’ve had strong winds the past several days.”
Glorieta Conference Center director Larry Haslam added, “The fact that the wind wasn’t blowing was absolutely a miracle.” Haslam was in Birmingham, Ala., Saturday night but rushed back to the conference center, arriving Sunday morning.
Cedar Lodge is located just 40 feet from a Centrifuge boys’ dorm, Spruce Lodge, and 60 feet from Chaparral, a hotel housing some of the 695 guests attending a June 19-22 Sunday school leadership conference. These and two other buildings were evacuated during the fire, but guests were able to return to their rooms Sunday afternoon.
By the time fire trucks from seven communities were on the scene, leaders had accounted for everyone in the building. Firefighters complimented the evacuation process. Knowing that no one was in the building, they said they were able to concentrate on the fire.
He praised Glorieta staff members for following emergency plans the conference center had in place. He attributed the speed of the evacuation, in part, to the presence of smoke alarms which he said are in every hotel room on campus. Also, he said an evaluation will be conducted of plans and of future preventive actions.
Fire departments responding to the alarm were from Glorieta Pass, Pecos, Santa Fe (city), Santa Fe County, Hondo, Eldorado and Ilfeld. The fire was under control by 4 a.m., but officials remained on the scene Sunday afternoon, securing the area and completing their investigation.
One adult sponsor reported the loss of her wedding ring to a firefighter, who later located the ring and returned it to the guest.
Santa Fe County Fire Marshall Hank Blackwell attributed the cause of the fire to an electric blanket brought by a guest. Bedding provided by Glorieta does not include electric blankets.
Haslam said Sunday night the building is a total loss with only a few walls left standing. The building was cordoned off and security guards posted. He said as soon as insurance investigators complete their work, a fence will be constructed to secure the area.
He commended Centrifuge staff for their assistance to the Cedar Lodge guests and the more than 500 other youth attending the camp. The Sunday schedule was reduced in light of the fire, but a worship service was held Sunday night with other activities resuming Monday.
He said volunteers on campus as well as others from the nearby towns Glorieta and Pecos arrived to help. Some moved vehicles to safety.
In the Sunday morning worship service of the Sunday school leadership conference, a special offering was taken to assist guests in replacing belongings. Funds also were given by volunteers who helped with the fire, by Glorieta staff and by persons who dropped money by the conference center lobby desk without leaving their names. An offering was taken by the Catholic mission located in the nearby town of Glorieta. By Sunday evening, more than $3,100 had been contributed.
Haslam said plans are in process to make adjustments to house all guests for the remainder of the summer.
Mike Arrington, executive director for corporate affairs at LifeWay Christian Resources, commended the Glorieta staff, fire officials and guests for their handling of the fire and in meeting needs of guests from Cedar Lodge.
“We give praise to the Lord that no one was injured,” Arrington said.
Arrington said construction of a building to replace Cedar Lodge will be considered as part of overall master planning for the conference center.