State officials say North Shore lodge that burned had 3 unresolved inspection violations

Historic Lodge Burns
Firefighters battle an overnight blaze that destroyed the Lutsen Lodge on Minnesota's North Shore early Tuesday.
Edward Vanegas via AP

Updated: 4:25 p.m.

State officials said Wednesday that a historic North Shore lodge destroyed in a fire the previous day had three unresolved violations from a recent fire code inspection, but it wasn’t clear if those violations played a role in the blaze.

A staffer at Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior spotted smoke coming from electrical outlets in the floor of the lobby around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday. The employee made it out and no guests were checked in, but the lodge was destroyed.

A news release from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said the State Fire Marshal division performed an inspection in July and found seven violations. The agency said the property owner repaired four of them.

The three outstanding violations were:

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

  • There was no annual sprinkler inspection report, which is required by law.

  • Resort officials could not provide a report of their most recent periodic inspection and testing of all fire alarm systems and equipment.

  • The egress illumination was not provided with enough emergency power to make sure it would work in case of a power failure.

Historic Lodge Burns
Smoke rises after an overnight blaze destroyed the Lutsen Lodge on the North Shore of Lake Superior on Tuesday.
Edward Vanegas via AP

“It is too early in the investigation to determine if the three outstanding violations played a role in the fire,” the release stated.

State Fire Marshal division investigators “are sifting through debris and ashes to review any physical evidence at the scene. They will also review paperwork, such as business and financial reports, and conduct a multitude of interviews,” the agency reported. The state said it is unclear when the investigation will conclude.

“We understand the public wants answers,” State Fire Marshal Chief Investigator Jim Iammatteo said in a news release. “However, it would be irresponsible to offer any insights until the conclusion of this investigation.”

Fire crews remained at the scene on Wednesday to douse hot spots in the wreckage.

Lutsen Lodge, started in 1885, claims to be Minnesota’s oldest resort with the lodge as its centerpiece. Located on the Lake Superior side of Highway 61, not far from the separate Lutsen Mountains ski area, it’s a popular destination for hikers, skiers and other visitors from the Midwest and beyond.

The main lodge was rebuilt after a 1951 fire. The lodge’s general manager told MPR News the owners have the original plans for the building that burned on Tuesday, and they plan to rebuild again.

A view of the Lutsen Lodge from the woods looking over the water.
A view of the Lutsen Lodge from September 2008
Kelly Gordon | MPR News

Bryce Campbell, owner of the resort since 2018, told the Star Tribune in an email that he owes about $150,000 to several people who own cabins and condominiums nearby, and said he had seen speculation about the origin of the fire. Without prompting from the newspaper, he denied those rumors.

“My heart is broken, and I feel like I’m grieving a person,” Campbell wrote to the newspaper, noting he recently spent millions of dollars on improvements to the property. “You have no idea what it’s like to lose such a big piece of your life (that) my mom and I were building together. It makes my broken heart hurt even more to focus on such absurd accusations.”

State investigators in their Wednesday update did not make any suggestion that the fire was suspicious in nature.

First responders work
First responders work to put out a major fire that burned the main lodge to the ground on Tuesday.
Erica Dischino for MPR News

Campbell reiterated to the paper that he intends to rebuild and reopen the resort.

The fire happened as the resort was facing some financial headwinds. Jay Halverson, who owns a townhouse and a cabin near the lodge, told the Star Tribune that Campbell owes him about $30,000 in rental proceeds.

An MPR News review of court filings found several pending lawsuits against the resort and its parent company from owners of cabins and townhomes who claim they’re owed money. Those properties were managed and rented out by the resort.

One suit filed by a Dundas woman claims the resort owes her $11,000 for rentals at her log cabin. Another townhome owner from Andover says the resort owes them more than $14,000. That suit claims the resort stopped making payments last August, but continued to rent out the property.

A third suit, filed just last week, is asking for nearly $13,000. That cabin owner, from Eden Prairie, alleges the resort was supposed to pay the property's electric bills but did not — even as the cabin continued to be rented. In total, at least five rental owners have filed suit.

In addition, the Minnesota Department of Revenue’s February posting of tax delinquencies for liquor, wine and beer sales lists the resort’s parent company, North Shore Resort Co. In addition to Lutsen, it also owns Superior Shores near Two Harbors.

A spokesperson for the state said the company has been on the list since November, and that businesses on the list could be delinquent on any one of several kinds of taxes. He said when a business is on the list, they are prohibited from purchasing alcoholic beverages to resell. But the exact amount the company owes is not public.

The resort’s general manager told MPR News earlier in the week that the lack of snow this winter was affecting the business, as it has for so many resorts across the state.