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Resort official: Some guests didn't hear fire alarm

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Some guests caught in a weekend blaze at a northern Michigan ski resort never heard fire alarms, according to the facility's operator.

"The system is designed to sound an audible alarm only in areas where smoke is detected," Boyne Highlands resort president and general manager Mike Chumbler said in a statement. "It does not, however, send a general alarm through the entire hotel or specific zones. Due to several guests stating that no audible alarms were heard, this is an area that remains under active investigation."

Firefighters extinguish a blaze Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs. The resort called it a "significant structure fire" early Sunday.

The 1:30 a.m. Sunday fire injured 12 people and destroyed around 70 hotel rooms. One of the injured guests, identified by officials as David Chauvette, was in critical condition from smoke inhalation.

There were 113 guests in 64 rooms. The cause of the fire is under investigation, although the local sheriff says it started on the third floor. Around 40 percent of the lodge has some fire damage, officials said.

"This was a traumatic event for many of our guests and staff members," Chumbler said in a statement, "We continue to place their well-being as our top priority. We have made contact with all of the registered guests staying in the hotel that night to make sure that they're OK, and that their needs are being addressed."

The resort closed Sunday to begin recovery from the fire. It already was scheduled to close Monday through Thursday as part of the normal early season calendar and will reopen at 9 a.m. Friday.

Meanwhile, investigation continues into the cause of the fire.

"There are things we know, and there are things we still don't know," Chumbler said. "Some things that seemed clear in the early stages are now in question. Our goal all along has been to provide the most accurate information we can. There are large aspects of this investigation that are entirely the province of law enforcement and the State Fire Marshal's office, and we're cooperating with them fully. Some of the questions raised may not have answers until their investigation is complete."

One of those questions revolves around the facility's door-to-door evacuation process during Sunday's fire.

The building's fire alarm system emits audible and visual alerts in areas where smoke is detected, Chumbler said. It also sends a signal to a control panel at the front desk. The system does not activate alarms throughout the facility, so guests in other parts of the building had to be alerted by staff.

"Once resort staff were aware of the fire, personnel responded to check on the identified location and began notifying guests of the need to evacuate," Chumbler said. "The resort's standard protocol is to contact the resort's safety and security team, begin calling guestroom phones if possible, and begin knocking on doors.  As time became critical, resort staff focused exclusively on door-to-door evacuation procedures until staff members had to exit the structure for their own safety and emergency services personnel had arrived on scene and took over sole responsibility for the evacuation."

The current fire alarm system was updated in 2006 after first being installed in the 1960s, Chumbler said. The old system was prone to false alarms, and "relied upon wall-mounted alarm levers in the hallways, which required guests or staff members to pull a lever if there was suspicion of a fire."

hfournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

@HollyPFournier

The Associated Press contributed.