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Saranac Waterfront Lodge to reopen May 3

After fire, hotel manager hopes to ‘bounce back’

Anura Dewapura, managing director of the Saranac Waterfront Lodge. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Waterfront Lodge had been open for 50 days on Jan. 5 when a fire sprung out of a second-floor heating and air conditioning unit. The hotel’s been closed for 83 days since then, but in 35 days, on May 3, Managing Director Anura Dewapura plans to reopen the boutique hotel on the shore of Lake Flower’s Pontiac Bay.

“We are energized,” Dewapura said. “We want to bounce back 100 times better.”

He’s anticipating a busy summer, hoping to pick up the hotel and pub’s busy atmosphere where it left off.

Construction crews are now working inside, recovering the building from the fire, smoke and water damage it sustained.

Dewapura said he is recruiting staff for the lodge again and has hired 60% to 70% of the staff needed. Some people are returning to work there, others are new.

Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brendan Keough talks by radio with fellow firefighters battling a blaze inside the room next door at the Saranac Waterfront Lodge Tuesday, Jan. 5. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

The fire was a setback for the new, 93-room independent hotel, but Dewapura said returning will not be too hard.

“It’s kind of easier because we opened once,” he said.

‘The system worked’

On the day of the fire, flames shot out of an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) unit in a unoccupied room on the second floor. Smoke filled the hallway and sprinklers rained down on freshly made beds.

People inside were evacuated and Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department members quickly responded, knocking down the flame to a smoke plume, and then cutting away the siding to remove the unit.

“I really commend the Saranac Lake fire brigade,” Dewapura said. “We owe a gratitude for them. I’m waiting for when we open and we need to get them here to say ‘Thank you.'”

No one was injured and the fire damage was contained to the one room where it started, Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brendan Keough said.

Dewapura was at the hotel when it happened and he said he was one of the last ones out of the building. He said it was frightening but he now sees positives in the incident.

“One thing worked very well: The system,” Dewapura said. “The safety, security and our fire drills, how the team reacted — It all worked in a clockwork way.”

Restoration

Work started at the hotel started right away. On Jan. 6 a water damage remediation company was there to pump water out and remove damaged material.

Construction work to rebuild started two weeks ago.

Dewapura did not get into the specifics of the price of rebuilding, but he did say, “To open and reopen a hotel is a costly affair.”

Though the fire damage was contained to one room, smoke from the fire and water from the fire fight caused a lot of damage, too.

Dewapura said construction crews are redoing 10 rooms on the second floor with new carpet, new decor and new sheet rock walls.

The hallway floors are currently covered in cardboard or plastic to protect them as the sheetrock wall is torn out.

The ground floor was also damaged by water seeping through the ceiling and dripping down.

Dewapura said the hotel has replaced the fibrous wallpaper on walls and washed many linens from the upper floors, where smoke made its way up.

“There was smoke smell everywhere, because it was electrical,” Dewapura said.

Now, he said, the smell is gone.

There is also non-fire-related construction work taking place.

When the hotel soft opened last year, not all of the decor, amenities and architecture were finished yet. Dewapura said the last few months have been a good time to do that work and fill out the construction “punchlist.”

Investigation

The Lodge’s insurance company is conducting a forensic investigation focused on the HVAC unit. Don Jaquish, director of Essex County Emergency Services, which is also investigating the cause and origin of the fire said it was “definitely accidental.”

Dewapura said the manufacturer has been cooperative through the investigation and there are now seven groups involved in figuring out what happened. They tore apart what was left of the unit, he said.

The investigation has not concluded yet. He said they know it started in the HVAC unit but have not finalized the root cause.

Meanwhile, the manufacturer has sent a team to the hotel and Dewapura said they’ve been inspecting each unit, hooking them up to machines and looking inside to make sure they are not a hazard. He said each unit will have to be “certified” to remain at the hotel.

Safety, he said, is his number one concern.

Local thanks

Dewapura has worked in hotels in 17 countries, but he said Saranac Lake is a special place. The “moral support” he said the Lodge has received from community has been nice. He said though a hotel’s focus is its guests, he values the locals who spend time at the pub and other facilities. They’re who help out in rough times, he said.

He and his wife have bought a house in town and will be living here.

“This is our town now,” Dewapura said. “I don’t know how I ended up here, but it’s a nice place to be.”

Dewapura grew up in Sweden, so he is used to the cold. He said he enjoys the four seasons of Saranac Lake, including the “burning bright color” of fall foliage and the excitement of Winter Carnival. The Lodge was booked for Winter Carnival, he said, and it was hard to not have guests there this year.

From the Governor’s Suite on the fourth floor, overlooking the site of the Ice Palace, he said he looks forward to guests enjoying that view next year.

Lodging rooms and the Boathouse pub will open up in May. A 24-boat-slip marina is scheduled to open in June.

Dewapura said the hotel’s been receiving messages from people looking to get rooms at the lodge again, eat at the Boathouse restaurant or hold a wedding there.

Harvest, a planned farm-to-table restaurant will open at a later date.

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