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National team sent in to investigate Anchorage hotel fire

Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was sending a 25-agent national response team to Anchorage to assist with the investigation of a fire that destroyed a downtown hotel.

''It'll be real helpful with the size of this scene,'' said Deputy Fire Chief Bridget Bushue.

The 90-room Aspen Hotel was under construction and was scheduled to open June 1. It went up in flames at about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. Within 45 minutes the four-story hotel was reduced to a pile of rubble and was declared a total loss by fire officials. The loss was estimated at $4.9 million.

Fire investigators said two homeless men sleeping in the building escaped the inferno. The building's exterior was completed as was interior framing work. Contractors were installing drywall this week.

It's not known what sparked the blaze. Local fire officials would work with the federal agents, who are available when requested by local fire departments to investigate catastrophic fires and bombings.

Firefighters said the blaze was the worst they could recall in the city in a decade.

''It's been quite a few years since there's been a complete loss like this,'' said fire inspector Dan Diehl. ''These hotels, they're all using combustible materials. It's all plywood-like equipment and it just burns.''

The building's sprinkler system was not yet connected.

The hotel would have been the fifth to be opened by Aspen Hotels of Alaska since 1999. The company also owns hotels in Valdez, Fairbanks, Soldotna and Juneau.

Sales agents had already collected about 800 reservations for the Anchorage hotel for the upcoming tourism season at an average room price of $135 a night.

Carol Fraser, a vice president with Aspen, said she was optimistic that the company will rebuild the hotel. The project was insured, she said.



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