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Mechanical failure deemed cause of Al's Oasis Inn fire

OACOMA, S.D. -- A mechanical failure in the whirlpool area of Al's Oasis Inn was determined to be the cause of an early-morning fire that destroyed a section of the Oacoma structure.

(Photo courtesy of the Chamberlain-Oacoma Volunteer Fire Department)
(Photo courtesy of the Chamberlain-Oacoma Volunteer Fire Department)

OACOMA, S.D.  -- A mechanical failure in the whirlpool area of Al's Oasis Inn was determined to be the cause of an early-morning fire that destroyed a section of the Oacoma structure.

State Fire Marshal Paul Merriman said Tuesday the fire was most likely started by a failure in the exhaust fan motor. It did not appear to be suspicious in nature, Merriman said in a statement.

Around 2:15 a.m. Monday, the Chamberlain/Oacoma Fire Department responded to a fire that destroyed the main section of Al's Oasis Inn in Oacoma. It’s part of a popular stop for many travelers and others along Interstate 90 and the Missouri River.

It took firefighters more than three hours to put out the blaze, according to Fire Chief Kurt Kelsey. Crews were still on scene Tuesday monitoring spots around the building.

Merriman was investigating the cause of the fire, which was unknown until Tuesday. Originally, authorities believed the cause was possibly from a lightning strike, but they were waiting for the fire marshal's report along with a report from the National Weather Service before declaring an official cause.

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The estimated amount of damage is unknown, and the manager of the Oasis Inn declined to comment on the fire.

The main section of the building is likely a complete loss due to heavy smoke and water damage. There is a collapsed section toward the front of the building and charred walls. But a second section, connected with a walkway, suffered "very minimal" damage, Kelsey said.

The inn, which is located on the north side of Interstate 90 in Oacoma, contains 86 guest rooms and an indoor pool.

Despite the recent fire, business hasn't slowed down. Tourists continued to shop and tour the area. Al's Oasis serves as a rest stop off of I-90 with a restaurant, gift shop, grocery store and hotel. The hotel portion of Al's Oasis is separated from the shopping area, standing on its own to the east.

"It has not affected the area at all," said Kylee Brooks, a summer employee of Al's. "It's brought in more people who are looking around and asking about what happened."

Brooks was not working during the time of the fire, but saw it the next day. She and her coworkers said they didn't expect anything like this would ever happen.

Luann Heath was just as surprised when she heard about the fire in the inn. Heath, a Kimball resident, comes to Al's Oasis about once a month to shop.

"It's just a fun place to come," Heath said. "I'm thankful to see it didn't spread to the other parts (of Al's Oasis). It's been here a long time."

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The oasis began in 1919 when Albert Mueller built a grocery store in Oacoma. The business continued to grow, expanding it's 10-stool lunch counter to a full scale restaurant. In 1989, the 10,000-square foot restaurant, bar and warehouse were completed.

In 2003, a 17,000-square foot expansion was completed including a supermarket, gift shop and clothing.

In 2013, ownership of the tourist attraction changed. A partnership was formed by the U.S. Hotels, a subsidiary of the Sioux Falls-based Ramkota Companies. The Mueller family is one of the investors in the partnership.

Looking around, Heath said nobody could have guessed there was a large fire that damaged the inn, because of the many people still coming and going in the area.

"You wouldn't know how close or how bad it could have been," Heath said. "A fire affects the whole community. I feel bad for the community and the business."

Other responding agencies were the Chamberlain Police Department, Missouri Valley Ambulance, Lyman County Sheriff's Office and the Brule County Sheriff's Office.

(Photo courtesy of the Chamberlain-Oacoma Volunteer Fire Department)
(Photo courtesy of the Chamberlain-Oacoma Volunteer Fire Department)

Related Topics: CHAMBERLAIN
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