A can of bear mace sprayed in a storage room by an unknown person forced the evacuation of 20 guests and six employees from Fish Camp's Timberloft Pizza restaurant adjacent to Tenaya Lodge July 19.
The restaurant is located in the former Apple Tree Inn, now called "The Cottages at Tenaya Lodge," having been purchased by Delaware North Inc.
"There was no smell ... we just started coughing then we noticed the people in the restaurant started coughing ," said food server Jacquelin Fairchild, 20, of Coarsegold. "That's when we called the manager on duty to report what was going on."
Not knowing for sure what caused guests and employees to start coughing, the manager of duty, Don Dauro, immediately called 911 as restaurant employees quickly assisted guests in evacuating the building.
Quickly responding to the incident, which occurred at about 8:30 p.m., were Madera County Fire Station 12 from Oakhurst, three Sierra Ambulance units, the Mariposa County Sheriff's Department and Cal Fire. The first report came in as a possible toxic chemical spill and 20 plus people needing medical attention.
It was not until Hazmat units from Madera and Merced counties arrived at about 10:15 p.m., that the empty can of bear mace was discovered on the floor of the storage room under the restaurant and kitchen. An unknown person or persons sprayed the contents of the can in the storage room and the mace drifted upstairs.
Two restaurant employees, Fairchild and kitchen worker Valerie Cosentino, 20, of Oakhurst, were transported by Sierra Ambulance to Kaiser Permanente hospital in Fresno where both were treated and released. Both returned to work the following night.
Tenaya Lodge General Manager Paul Ratchford said the restaurant staff took tremendous precautions and immediately evacuated the building.
"It took me about 10 minutes to get from the lodge to the restaurant when I head about the incident and the guests were already outside for their protection and safety and our manager on duty, Don Dauro, had already called 911," Ratchford said. "I'm very proud of the restaurant staff for their quick and professional reaction to the incident."
Ratchford also praised all the first responders from Madera, Mariposa and Merced counties for their rapid response to the incident.
"Initially we did not know what was causing the coughing and throat irritation," Ratchford said. "We were relived that it was not a hazardous material spill of any kind."
The incident is being investigated internally by the Tenaya Lodge security staff. It can be a felony to discharge pepper spray other than for the purpose of self defense.