Injury Count Rises In Lodge Explosion; 3 Still Missing

Propane Suspected As Likely Cause Of Blast

Three children were missing and 16 others were injured in a fiery explosion that destroyed a remote mountain lodge, authorities said Sunday.

Flames were still burning when this photo was taken two hours after a blast leveled the Electric Mountain Lodge.

The three missing, ages 3, 12, and 15, were all from the same family, Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee said.

Amber Brave, a manager of the Alexander Lake Lodge in nearby Cedaredge, Colo., who provided help to the rescue effort, told the Grand Junction Sentinel that she spoke with one of the lodge’s owners and was told that the owner’s young niece and nephew had been killed.

"I went up to her and asked her if she was OK, and she just looked at me and said, 'I lost my niece and nephew,'" Brave said. "And then she fell to her knees sobbing."

"We are very concerned that they were last seen in the lodge," McKee said.

This was what the Electric Mountain Lodge looked like before the explosion.

McKee said the explosion Saturday at the three-story Electric Mountain Lodge may have been caused by propane, which was used for heating.

The blast leveled the building and the debris burned. Slideshow:

"There's nothing left of the building but a handrail and a chimney," said Rick Stelter, a Paonia town councilman and ambulance driver for the North Fork Ambulance District. "The lodge is gone."

The charred rubble was still too hot Sunday afternoon for a search team to enter, McKee said. Heavy snow was making it impossible to get the kind of equipment to the site that was needed.

"We need to get heavy equipment into the area but due to the terrain we are having some problems doing that," said McKee. "Fortunately, this time of year things melt pretty quick but it is still causing delays."

Because the lodge in the Gunnison National Forest on the western slopes of the Rockies is isolated by heavy snow, helicopters took injured people off the mountain while ground crews used tracked vehicles to ferry emergency medical teams to the site.

The lodge, about 230 miles southwest of Denver, has 12 rooms that sleep up to 34 people, according to its Web site. It also has three condos, but McKee said it was his understanding that the condos were still standing.

Injuries ranged from burns and smoke inhalation to "serious compound fractures," according to officials.

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