‘A mass of flame’: Lake Vermillion Resort Owners Will Rebuild After Fire Destroys 4 Buildings

Resort owners the Gillson family say the fire started in the gazebo's enclosed fireplace, spreading to the bait house, resort store, and game room.

BUYCK, Minn.- An early Sunday morning scare at Life of Riley Resort on Lake Vermillion — fire ripping through a gazebo, and two other buildings, leaving charred ashes behind.

“I tell ya dude, I came over the hill and it’s like ‘oh man.’ I was in the Twilight Zone,” said Life of Riley owner Rock Gillson.

“It reminded me, first thing was an old Western movie when the barns are on fire, that is what our game lodge looked like,” he said.

The St. Louis County Sheriff’s office responded to a structure fire at the resort around 1 a.m. Sunday, finding four total structures engulfed in flames.

“All the boards were burning in between each other, you could see through the building and into the center of the building which was just a mass of flame,” Gillson said. “It was quite a surprise after 42 years. This is our 42nd season as a family business, hard to see things go.”

Resort owners the Gillson family say the fire started in the gazebo’s enclosed fireplace, spreading to the bait house, resort store, and game room while damaging the dock and public restrooms.

The family volunteers with local fire brigades so they say their training sprung them into action.

“You click in, here we go. I come around the building, you do quick assessment ‘ok this is on fire, that’s on fire, this is where, the way that it’s moving,’” Josh, Rock’s son and co-owner said. “Everybody pulling stuff out of the way, pull swings out of the way, pulling stuff out.”

The fire did not hit any of the resort’s occupied buildings so none of the upward of 80 guests staying there that night were harmed.

“We got it contained to just a few buildings,” said Rock, “it was in a position where many more could have been, could have been lost.”

The Gillsons say many guests did help clean up.

Before setting up any fundraisers or tending to what they lost, the family says they were focused on getting things up and running for those trying to enjoy their summer at their resort.

“The health and safety of our guests are our priority, they’re #1,” Josh said.

“Service those that are here and enjoy their week here on Lake Vermillion,” his father replied.

Even after the fire was contained and facing the charred remains, the Gillsons still kept their attention — and care — on others.

“We fed all first responders, firefighters and EMS that were still on location at the end,” Josh said, “we turned the coffee pot on and fed them breakfast before they left.” According to his father, it’s in their nature. “It was a small tribute that we could give those Firefighters for coming out in the middle of the night, and working with us,” he said.

Now they say as ownership of the resort transitions from father to sons, they focus on rebuilding. “It’s gonna be pretty tough for us to bounce back out of that,” said Rock Gillson.

“However, like I tell everybody, we haven’t had one in 42 years. And like a phoenix we will see what rises from the ashes,” he said, “and it will, I guarantee you that.”

“The blessing in disguise, in the realm of worst case scenarios, we got pretty lucky,” Josh said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help raise funds so the owners can rebuild.

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