Smoke poured from the cement-block laundry building at the back end of the grounds for more than an hour after the fire was reported at about 8:40 p.m.
Caretaker Lynn Austhof said she was in the process of closing up the grounds when she smelled smoke.
“Then we started looking around and saw flames,” she said. “We called 911.”
Austof sat in a pickup truck not far from the fire as winds whipping off nearby Lake Michigan rolled the smoke down the walkway that goes to the beach. The high snow banks concentrated the smoke into a tunnel-like effect.
Firefighters from Grand Haven Township, the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety and Port Sheldon Township worked in shifts to extinguish the fire. The fire was knocked down shortly after 9:30 p.m., but firefighters continued to work past 10 p.m., cutting holes in the roof for ventilation and putting out hotspots.
It was unknown how bad the damage was to the interior of the building as of press time.
Austof said the laundry building had not been in use for about a week because of frozen pipes. She said a lot of stuff was stored in the building.
The building sits almost at the top of the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan at the west end of the conference grounds.
Austof said the conference grounds are open year-round and that guests were expected in some of the cottages today.
No one was in any of the buildings at the time of the fire, Austof said.
Grand Haven Township Fire Chief Tom Gerencer said the wind was blowing at about 20 mph off the lake Thursday night.
“Wind-driven fires are dangerous, thus the extra personnel,” he said.
Also on the scene were Ottawa County Sheriff’s deputies, North Ottawa Community Hospital paramedics and the Norton Shores Canteen.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.