Owners of Shell Lake Lodge consider rebuilding after fire

The family who built and operated the Shell Lake Lodge near Skwentna say they’re considering rebuilding it after a fire destroyed the main structure this week.

A fire early Monday spread quickly through the main building of the lodge, which is located near routes for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and Iron Dog snowmachine race and has long been a popular place for winter recreationalists to gather.

The on-site manager had awoken to flames surrounding the wood stove, and the blaze was too large to extinguish by the time it was spotted, said Cathi Peterson, who has been managing the lodge remotely in recent years with help from others in the family.

Several people who had stopped at the lodge to purchase gas helped rescue items from the building before it was entirely engulfed in flames, Peterson said.

Peterson said they think the fire may have started in the stove pipe. The building was destroyed, she said.

Peterson’s mother, Zoe Brinker, built the lodge with her children during the 1970s, starting with a single room before expanding and opening for business in 1978. Brinker ran the lodge until she turned 80, and Peterson stepped in during the last four years. Peterson said most of the business centers around events such as the Iditarod and Iron Dog.

Fire has long been a concern, Peterson said. The lodge is constructed entirely out of wood — “it’s a pile of kindling and everyone knows they’re dealing with that in the bush when you have a log home that is old,” she said. “... You just gotta do everything you can to avoid fire, but if it does start, there’s almost no way you can put it out.”


A series of hoses was set up around the lodge to protect against wildfire in recent years, Peterson said. The system is only operable in the summer, however, because the pumps and creek it draws from are frozen in the winter.

For decades, the Shell Lake Lodge has been a popular stopping point for the racing community, said Mark Nordman, the Iditarod’s race director and race marshal.

“I’d just hate to lose that gem — everybody knew about Shell Lake Lodge,” Nordman said.

Peterson said she initially didn’t consider rebuilding the lodge because it is such a daunting task: It’s challenging and expensive to bring equipment to the remote location; it’s hard work to physically build a new lodge; and it seemed unclear who would take over running the business as Peterson and her siblings edge toward retirement.

The lodge wasn’t insured because coverage was too expensive, Peterson said.

The fire was devastating for the family, according to Peterson. She said that in the last few days, she’s heard from countless people offering support and trying to find ways to help. Younger members of her family have expressed interest in continuing the family tradition and running the lodge as well, she said.

“The support from the community is what’s making me think that we should” rebuild, Peterson said.

There’s still a lot to figure out, Peterson said. The lodge started an online fundraiser Tuesday night and had raised more than $4,000 by Wednesday afternoon.

Correction: The original caption of a photo showing Shell Lake Lodge on fire incorrectly stated that the fire occurred on Nov. 13, 2023. It happened on Feb. 13, 2023.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at