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vail fire

Arson suspected in Vail blaze Vail officials suspect arson in a $12 million fire which destroyed several mountaintop buildings, including the 33,000 square foot Two Elk Lodge, early Monday morning. No one was injured in the blaze, which set off alarms at about 4 a.m. Oct. 19. Officials said seven individual fires occurred at two different locations about a mile and a half apart. The fire in the elaborate Two Elk Lodge restaurant, which could seat 550 people, started at a different time than the blaze which destroyed the ski patrol headquarters. Also destroyed were Camp One, a combination day lodge and outdoor picnic area; a ski patrol hut near the top of Chair 14; and Chinatown, a mountaintop rest station. Chairs 4, 5, 11 and 14 were also damaged. The motor for Chair 5, the main lift for Vail’s Back Bowls, was destroyed, as was the lift’s top tower. Despite the devastation Vail authorities promised to open the mountain as scheduled, on Nov. 6, although Chair 5 likely won’t be ready until some time in December. The fire occurred days after Vail Resorts announced it had received final approval for its controversial expansion into National Forest lands. A law suit by environmentalists, which claimed the expansion plans would harm lynx habitat, was dismissed last month. Environmental groups denounced the suspected arson. Several federal and regional authorities are investigating the fire, including the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the FBI and the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. Police were stopping automobiles at main access points to the area Monday and the National Guard dispatched two helicopters to search for any other fires and for clues to how the fires started. By Thursday of this week 50 investigators were expected on site. A spokesman said if foul play is determined to be the cause of the fires the FBI will likely take over the investigation since they occurred on federally-owned U.S. Forest Service land. There was no lightning on the evening the fires occurred but all the buildings that burned share gas and power lines. The fires occurred at the 11,250 foot level, 3,000 feet above Vail Village. Firefighters had to truck water up the mountain, through snow, to fight the blaze. The fire was extinguished about noon on Monday.

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