JACKSON — A fire alarm was blaring late Monday as Heidi Harrison headed into the hallway of her family’s three-decade-old boutique Jackson hotel, where she ran into the night watchman, Jair Wong.
Wong, who’d been doing the Rusty Parrot Lodge and Spa’s laundry, also heard alarms screeching in the night. Quickly he discovered the reason: flames, which were already rolling big near the south-facing deck of the 32-room hotel.
By 11:27 p.m., Harrison was dialing 911 and in the process of dashing outside to safety.
“[Jair] stopped me from going toward the flames, because I was headed that way,” Harrison said. “He sent me back.”
Minutes later, Harrison was standing outside near the curb with her brother, Brandon Harrison, who’d also been woken and beelined it to the family business. Police officers also showed up “so fast,” she said, and they acquired a list of the six occupied rooms that night at the Rusty Parrot. They promptly went door to door in the upscale guest lodge, which quickly filled with smoke.
Thanks to body camera footage posted online by the Jackson Police Department, it’s possible to see parts of what happened next. Officer Justin Lancaster, who held the list, bounded up the stairs to the third floor and then crawled along the lodge’s checkered floors, stopping to pound on one of the occupied rooms.
“Police Department, you need to come out!” Lancaster shouted to a sleeping guest.
The video is choppy, but the man evidently complied. Lancaster hacked and spat as they started descending a staircase. His fellow officers urged him along, but he hesitated to depart altogether until he was certain the floor was vacant.
“Let me just check the list really quick,” Lancaster said at the tail end of the video segment the department posted.
Down below, outside near the curb, the Harrisons and other onlookers hoped for a time that the conflagration wouldn’t total the building. Flames engulfed the building’s wood-floored deck and obviously damaged the area just inside where there was a library, but firefighters’ hoses promptly knocked down any visible flames. Thinking the ordeal was close to over, Heidi Harrison even started chauffeuring displaced guests to the Parkway Inn, a neighboring hotel where the Rusty Parrot paid to put them up.
Brandon Harrison agreed that it was hard to see what was happening with the fire from outside.
“People on the curb thought it was pretty well out, but I think that the firefighters knew the whole time it wasn’t,” he said.
His intuition was on point. Fire Marshal Kathy Clay, of Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, said the fire had migrated inside, where people couldn’t see it.
“That’s exactly how fire progresses,” Clay said. “It was in the attic.”
By midafternoon Tuesday, neither of the Harrisons had slept a wink, but their foggy recollection was that the 30 firefighters who responded continued to douse the building until 6 a.m. At one point the flames swept through the kitchen of the revered 14-table gourmet restaurant, Wild Sage. Again, it appeared the blaze was about burned out before yet another big flare-up.
An investigation is underway and expected to wrap up by the end of the week, but preliminary findings point to a gas firepit on the Rusty Parrot’s deck as the cause. A nearby covering on an outdoor sofa appears to have ignited and then spread to the wood floor, which was stained within the last week.
“There was fresh varnish and it’s pretty volatile stuff,” Clay said. “It certainly contributed to the fire behavior.”
From a vantage point off Jackson Street it’s obvious that the hotel will need to be entirely rebuilt. Supporting structures on the south end of the building collapsed, and what’s left behind is an imploded, blackened, windowless skeleton of what was.
The Rusty Parrot was started by Heidi and Brandon Harrison’s father, Ron, who opened its doors in 1990. According to the Jackson Hole News archives, construction of the 21,000-square-foot building cost $773,000 at the time, and rooms were going for an average of $65.
“There’s hardly two rooms alike in the whole building,” Ron Harrison told the News just shy of 29 years ago. “Some have fireplaces, some have hot tubs and almost all of the layouts are different.”
Clay’s take is that the lodge earned a reputation as an “icon” of the community in the intervening three decades.
“I don’t think it’s historic, but s---, it’s been here a long time,” the fire marshal said. “And it’s such a loss.”
Despite the trauma Heidi Harrison said she had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for everyone who helped.
Some 40 employees will need to come up with interim plans, but Brandon Harrison said he has every intention of rebuilding and continuing the Rusty Parrot’s tradition.
“It’s rough,” Harrison said Tuesday morning outside the remnants of the building.
“This was our pride and passion. For almost 30 years we’ve been investing our hearts and souls into this.”