North Fork Resort recovers slowly from fire one year ago

Gary Fisher, an employee of Pangles Construction of Strasburg, blows water off the new foundation of the pool pavilion at North Fork Campground in Front Royal. A fire destroyed the former structure one year ago today. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Two workers armed with leaf blowers cleared melted snow from a concrete slab in North Fork Resort Monday. One year after a fire completely razed the resort’s pool pavilion, there’s not much to show.

Chief Richard Mabie of Warren County Fire and Rescue Services called the resort “a total loss” on Dec. 13, 2016.

“When the first unit got there from Front Royal, the roof was caving in so it was what we call defensive operations from the beginning,” Mabie said at the time.

Jeri Sigrist, member of the North Fork Resort grounds team, said that progress has been “slow.” If everything goes well, the walls should go up around the concrete base in a matter of weeks, she said, and the building should fully reopen in March or April.

The resort spent three months on a waiting list to get its project approved by the county, Sigrist said.

Jeri Sigrist

“(The project) had to have a licensed architect, the builder’s drawings weren’t enough, we had to have an architect … it really threw us behind,” Sigrist said.

The insurance company has asked John Barnes, the resort’s manager, to document the rebuilding process to explain why it’s taking so long.

“Our insurance company has made us go back — John go back — and put it in writing, what has been our timeline and how come we’re not in our building,” Sigrist said. “We should be in it.”

The new pool pavilion will closely resemble the old one. It’ll have a smaller kitchen, but a similar game room and big hall.

The cause of the fire is still uncertain. The fire marshal sent in by the insurance company narrowed the cause down to 16 points of origin, determining the fire likely started from the spark of a space heater left plugged in for several days.

This answer doesn’t quite satisfy Sigrist. She and the rest of the crew had regularly used a space heater after bingo on Saturday nights, and left it plugged in over the weekend.

“This was a brand-new heater I had just taken out of the box from Lowe’s,” Sigrist said. “Plugged it in on Saturday night. The fire wasn’t until 6 o’clock Tuesday morning. But the cord never melted. The whole building burned down, but the cord didn’t melt on that heater. Now you tell me that heater’s the one who started the fire, no. No. It was an old building, and 30-some years old.”

Still, she didn’t hesitate when asked whether or not she would use space heaters in the rebuilt pavilion: “No, we will never do that again. Never do that again.”

Sigrist estimates that the new pavilion is going to cost $400,000. Insurance has covered all of the costs so far, but minor hiccups have been cropping up – such as an electricity pole standing too close to an anticipated wall — and she’s unsure who will absorb these added fees.

But, financially, the fire hasn’t hurt North Fork Resort much, Sigrist said. Business stayed about the same, partially due to a change of demographics. Several young people who work in the city come out to North Resort on the weekend and live out of their RVs.

“RVing’s a big thing right now. For instance … that motor home over there, in the F section, is probably a $70,000 camper. I’m not kidding you,” Sigrist said. “That’s what these people are doing. They’re selling their homes and going to RVing and just going from job to job to job, contractors do. But that’s their home. We have 30-something-year-old guys down here that have the $70,000 campers. Seriously.”