Located in the golden rolling hills of Colusa County, 25 miles west of the City of Williams, is a place of respite, retreat and rejuvenation – devastated by fire.
Wilbur Hot Springs has been part of Colusa County, long before many of us called this community home.
Founded in 1855, it was originally called Simmons Springs.
When the public discovered it, stagecoaches left every other day from Williams to where the healing waters flowed.
Back on April 29, 1915, a fire destroyed the hotel, as well as other buildings.
Just shy of a century later, the main lodge building was once again succumbed by fire.
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.
“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.
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.
Wilbur Hot Springs has been off-grid since its beginnings and was a pioneer in the use of solar power.
The European-style hotel had 23 private rooms with shared toilets on every floor and an 11-bed bunk room.
The community kitchen was a favorite feature of the hotel for many guests, who brought their own food to cook and share meals together—or eat privately— in the spacious dining hall or the hotel’s veranda. Guests also relaxed and played music together in the community room or read and napped on large couches in the library.
The quiet of Wilbur and its surrounding natural acreage has always been a big draw for guests.
Due to its remote location, Wilbur is relatively free of light, air, and noise pollution, making it an ideal place to stargaze and immerse oneself in nature.
A 1,560-acre nature preserve adjoins the 240-acre Wilbur property and features miles of trails for guests to hike and bike, as well as the Fountain of Life geyser, a unique stone monolith which regularly erupts every hour.
In the spirit of Wilbur, plans for renewal are already underway. “We will rebuild and continue to be here for the community as a place of refuge,” said Dr. Miller. “Wilbur will reopen very soon, welcoming day use visitors, campers, and a limited number of overnight guests in our Solar Lodge.”
For more information about Wilbur Hot Springs or to stay updated with the progress visit their website at: http://www.wilburhotsprings.com.