Investigators find no obvious sign of cause of hotel fire

Posted: Friday, April 12, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A team of investigators has begun to sift through the charred remains of the Aspen Hotel.

As of Thursday, investigators had found no bodies or obvious sign of what caused the fire that destroyed the 90-room hotel early Tuesday. The hotel was under construction and scheduled to open June 1.

Two homeless men sleeping inside the structure escaped the blaze. Authorities have said they don't believe anyone was trapped but say they can't be sure until all the debris is searched.

The 32-member investigative team is led by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Investigators are trying to determine where in the four-story structure the fire started and what caused it.

Officials with the Anchorage fire and police departments, Fairbanks Fire Department, State Fire Marshal's Office, Oregon State Police and the FBI are working with the ATF.

The team spent a few hours Thursday on the perimeter going over hotel blueprints and getting briefed about the site. Across an alley, repairmen and phone technicians worked on two office buildings abutting the hotel that were damaged by the fire.

Other investigators away from the scene watched videotapes of the incident and interviewed witnesses who saw the hotel rapidly burn.

Later Thursday, a backhoe cleared a path into the debris. Kent, a Labrador retriever handled by Oregon State Police Detective Maurice Austin, sniffed around the debris for signs of arson. Kent was trained by the ATF to detect accelerants.

Dan Diehl, Anchorage Fire Department investigator, told the Anchorage Daily News that nothing significant had been found. The goal is to continue combing the rubble and gathering clues, he said.

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