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Firefighter Jeff McBeth with the Inverness Volunteer Fire Department pours water on a fire at the Manka's Inverness Lodge on Wednesday. No one was injured.
An early morning fire Wednesday at Manka's Inverness Lodge, apparently triggered when a tree crashed into the back of the structure, destroyed the main building and its world-famous restaurant where Prince Charles dined last year.

Academy Award-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal and his sister, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, who vacationed there frequently, were among the dozen or so guests forced to flee into the wind and rain at about 3 a.m. No injuries were reported, but several dozen employees may be out of work.

"From my perspective, it looks like a total loss of the main lodge and the restaurant," said Marin County Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Giannini.

None of the actors were available for comment. But Daniel DeLong, a co-chef/owner with his partner, Margaret Grad}, said they were helpful and concerned about the historic lodge.

"Jake was helping me pull things out of the fire," DeLong said.

Giannini said the fire was reported at 2:43 a.m. Firefighters from Inverness, Marin County, Bolinas and Skywalker Ranch responded.

The first crews found a blaze in the back of the two-story wooden lodge. They tried to extinguish it but were forced to retreat and instead isolate the flames so they did not spread to nearby structures. It wasn't contained until 7:30 a.m.

Investigators said the fire may have started when a large rotten tree toppled into a back corner of the building near a water heater.

"It appears to be caused by something in or around the water heater," Giannini said.

A damage estimate was not available, he said.

Next door neighbor Judy Prokupek, whose family owned the lodge from the 1950s until 1989, said she heard the tree fall at about 2:40 a.m. Five minutes later, she called the fire department after seeing a small fire in the back and guests running outside.

"They weren't dressed to come out," she said. "It was early."

Palo Alto residents Marc Allard, 41, and his wife, Bridget, 31, arrived Tuesday night for what was supposed to be a three-day stay in one of the cabins set apart from the main lodge.

Marc Allard said he happened to be up when the tree broke. He said he saw an amber light that was out of place because the power had gone out earlier.

"We knew it wasn't right," he said.

Rosemary Wolohan, the innkeeper at the nearby Golden Hinde Inn, said she took in a couple who had been staying at Manka's. When they showed up in the middle of the night, the woman wasn't wearing shoes.

"They were very disoriented," Wolohan said.

DeLong and Grad}, who live four blocks away, were awakened by an on-call staffer after 3 a.m. They ran to the scene and began looking for the guests, in particular the eight people who had been staying in the main lodge.

"We were just concerned for people inside," he said.

DeLong said they were coming off a great Christmas where he cooked grits for not only the Gyllenhaals, but actress Frances McDormand and her husband Joel Cohen, a filmmaker whose credits include "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Despite the A-list guestlist, DeLong was low key about what he called a restaurant that was "no big deal."

"We just do what we do," he said.

More than anything, he said he is bowled over by the support shown by community members, some of whom brought coffee and bananas out for the recovery effort. As the day wore on, the side of the road became lined with smoky computers, antler chandeliers, a bearskin rug, a table shaped like a huge mushroom, boxes of files, pictures and other effects that didn't burn.

He said the entire staff was meeting last night to figure out what comes next. But, he noted, whatever happens will likely be done together because they have all worked together for so long.

"We're really a family," he said.

Read more West Marin stories at the IJ's West Marin page.

Contact Tad Whitaker via e-mail at