Welch Lodge Burns During Wildfire Ignited by Downed Power Line

firefighters battle a blazing building with water hoses
A member of the Jadwin Volunteer Fire Department works to keep the wildfire from spreading to the nearby unoccupied caretaker's house.

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News Release Date: May 3, 2018

Contact: Dena Matteson, 573-323-4814

Van Buren, MO – The historic Welch Lodge, located north of Akers Ferry on the upper Current River, was destroyed in a wildfire that ignited on April 12, during warm, windy, and dry weather conditions. Despite valiant efforts by several local fire departments and wildland firefighters from Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the Welch Lodge was a total loss as a result of the blaze. The Missouri State Fire Marshall and wildfire investigators from the National Park Service (NPS) jointly investigated the wildfire and loss of the structure. NPS investigators determined the origin of the wildfire was a downed power line resulting from a tree that fell across the line a short distance from the lodge.   
The fire was first spotted around 2:00 p.m. by park visitors who had been fishing at the river landing nearby, as they were returning to their vehicle. They immediately drove to Akers Ferry Canoe Rental to report the fire. Firefighters from Timber Community Fire Protection District were the first to arrive at Welch, observing that the wildfire had already reached the structure and was spreading quickly through the attic space. They began fire suppression efforts for both the Welch Lodge and rapidly spreading wildfire, and requested additional assistance from Jadwin Volunteer Fire Department and National Park Service wildland firefighters. Because of the rugged terrain and extreme wildfire conditions, firefighters conducted a burnout operation along nearby roads, so that a secure containment perimeter could be established. Crews worked late into the evening to contain the blaze. In total, the fire burned 148 acres.  
Welch Lodge and the nearby unoccupied caretaker’s house, which was saved through the efforts of the local volunteer firefighters, were built about 1953 by the Welch Cave Ranch Company. The facilities were operated as a fishing lodge prior to the establishment of Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The Welch Cave Ranch Company, a commercial enterprise of a group of St. Louis businessmen, catered to trout fisherman and stocked trout in the nearby man-made spillway from Welch Spring. The success of the enterprise is unknown, but by 1964 the company was no longer registered to stock trout, and the property was sold to the government in 1967 to become part of the national riverways. 
The lodge included 23 rooms, with two wings of dormitory bedrooms as well as a large kitchen, dining room, lounge area, and screened porch. Over the years it had served a variety of purposes, as a home for a Youth Conservation Corps camp through the early 1980s and then as housing for park employees. Plans to develop the lodge into a training center and educational youth camp were proposed and initiated in the early 2000s, but had been put on hold due to lack of funds.  
The National Park Service appreciates the response of both the Timber Community Fire Protection District and the Jadwin Volunteer Fire Department and their quick work to protect the caretaker’s house while slowing the initial spread of the wildfire. 

For more information about the Riverways, call (573) 323-4236; visit the park’s Facebook page, or website at www.nps.gov/ozar.
Ozark National Scenic Riverways preserves the free-flowing Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, the surrounding resources, and the unique cultural heritage of the Ozark people.


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Last updated: May 7, 2018

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