Investigation into Vail Fires Continues
Federal Bureau Testing Accelerants Found at Scene
Wednesday, November 4, 1998

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Flames engulf Two Elk Restaurant
Photo: Mark Mobley
The Eagle County Sheriff's Office and federal agents are continuing to follow "a number of leads" in the investigation surrounding the devastating Oct. 19 fires on Vail mountain which caused $12 million in damages.

"There is still a lot of information out there and we are still actively pursuing it," Special Agent Larry Bettendorf, of the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), said. "Arson investigations can take a long time."

ATF fire investigators and their specially-trained dogs did find accelerants in numerous places in the seven blaze sites. Samples of those accelerants are currently being studied at an ATF laboratory.

A radical environmental group, calling itself the Earth Liberation Front, has claimed responsibility for the fires. This group is a "cyber group," Sheriff's Office Spokesperson Kim Andree said Tuesday, which took responsibility via an email sent to officials shortly after the fires.

"Anyone can claim to be a member of that group. They're a cyber group — no membership, no dues," Andree said. "We're treating them just like another lead."

Still trying to determine the origin of the email, investigators are not convinced of its validity. "It would be like sending a letter with the post office box Colorado," Andree said. "There are so many places to look."

The arson was well thought out, Andree said. That area on Vail mountain is normally fairly busy, with a "high capacity of Elk hunters" and people generally live in the patrol headquarters building, which was destroyed in the fire. The window of opportunity, to be able to go unnoticed while setting seven fires, was extremely small.

"The timing was just impeccable; it took a lot of forethought," Andree said.

Sarah Love, Mountain Zone Staff

Earth Liberation Front Calls Fires a Warning
Radical Earth Group Opposed to Expansion
Friday, October 23, 1998

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Through an email, the radical animal rights group, the Earth Liberation Front, has claimed responsibility for fires which ravaged Vail Mountain early Monday, Oct. 19. The group claims expansion plans by Vail owners threatened the habitat of the lynx, an animal last seen in the area 25 years ago.

The email sent Wednesday to the sheriff's department, Vail owners and various media, reads as follows:
"ATTN: News Director,
On behalf of the lynx, five buildings and four ski lifts at Vail were reduced to ashes on the night of Sunday, October 18th. The 12 miles of roads and 885 acres of clearcuts will ruin the last, best lynx habitat in the state. Putting profits ahead of Colorado’s wildlife will not be tolerated. This action is just a warning. We will be back if this greedy corporation continues to trespass into wild and unroaded areas. For your safety and convenience, we strongly advise skiers to choose other destinations until Vail cancels its inexcusable plans for expansions. Earth Liberation Front."

Originally an off-shoot of Earth First!, a radical conservation group, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), is now believed to be more closely related to the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). While ALF supports ELF’s actions and has stated that no animals or humans were injured in the fire, dozens of national environmental groups have condemned the action.

Meanwhile, the fires have brought together a valley formerly divided over the opinions of Vail Associates and the expansion, called Category III. The community as a whole is pitching in wherever and whenever necessary to help Vail Associates rebuild the damaged structures. While Vail will be increasing security, though mostly due to the upcoming World Alpine Ski Championships, the construction on Category III will continue.

Laura Hertz, Mountain Zone Correspondent

Radical Earth Group Suspected in Vail Fires
Seven Simultaneous Blazes Cause $12 Million in Damages
Thursday, October 22, 1998

Vail, CO -- Though the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office will not confirm details, it has been reported that a radical environmental group, the Earth Liberation Front, is allegedly claiming responsibility for the Oct. 19 fires that destroyed four Vail Mountain buildings.

A Colorado radio station reportedly received an email message in which the group claimed responsibility.

The organization has also allegedly notified other organizations, including area media that it ignited the flames in protest to the mountain owners', Vail Associates, planned expansion of the popular ski resort. The seven simultaneous fires were started in the early morning of Oct. 19, just days after the first trees were cut down as part the 885-acre Category III expansion project.

Yesterday afternoon, Colorado governor Ray Romer called the fires and "act of terrorism" before sending additional members of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to assist the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and Vail Fire Department, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and the FBI, to search for evidence.

Seven dog teams have begun searches on the mountain. Several items have been turned over to investigators, but no information as to what was found has been released.

"The items could be anything from a water bottle to a pair of sunglasses," Kim Andree, sheriff's office spokesperson, said.

Vail Associates on Wednesday placed full-page ads in several newspapers thanking the investigative teams and the community for their support.

The department, Andree said, has received numerous calls to a county tip line which it is investigating

Laura Hertz, Mountain Zone Correspondent

Arson Suspected in Vail Fires
Wednesday, October 21, 1998

(Vail, CO) -- Seven simultaneous fires ravaged three restaurants and the ski patrol headquarters on Vail Mountain in the early morning of October 19. There were no injuries and officials report $12 million in damages.

While the FBI has labeled the cause of the fires "criminal," the bureau has yet to officially name arson as the cause.

Vail Associates, operators of the popular Colorado resort, report the November 7 opening will not be affected.

"We will open as planned on November 7 and these fire will have no effect on the upcoming World Alpine Ski Championships, February 1-14," Vail Associates President Andy Daly said.

The fires occurred just two days after the first trees were cleared from Category III, which is part of the highly controversial expansion of Vail Mountain. Two Elk, the 33,000-square-foot restaurant at the top of the China Bowl run was totally engulfed in flames when firefighters responded to the 4 a.m. blaze.

Two additional restaurants, Buffalo’s and Camp One, and the ski patrol headquarters were also burned beyond recognition. Four ski lifts, which traditionally do not begin operating on the opening date, were also heavily damaged. A ski lift safety expert will assess the damage to those lifts and advise what work will be needed to bring the lifts back to "operational status."

News of the fires spread quickly and the community was in shock Monday as initial feelings of disbelief turned to sadness and anger.

"You think when you move to the mountains, you are a little bit insulated from all of this. It’s just terrible to think that somebody would do something like this," Vail Municipal Judge Buck Allen said, voicing the thoughts of many.

Businesses in Vail reported receiving phone calls from concerned and curious tourists from around the world asking if hotels were still intact and if reservations should be canceled.

Investigators believe it will take several days, and perhaps weeks, of sifting through the rubble to find a cause which they hope will lead to the responsible party or parties.

"We may never know who is responsible for this," Daly said, "but we are all affected by it."

The events unfolded at 4:10 a.m. when two alarms sounded at Vail Dispatch. These alarms send a different signal to dispatch and are followed by a 911 call. Vail Associates employees immediately called 911 to report they too had received an alarm signal.

At 4:20 a.m., firefighters from three counties climbed the icy roads to reach Two Elk Restaurant and the patrol headquarters, located at the top of Chair 4. Both were already engulfed in flames.

At 11:15 a.m., a press conference was held and a partial list of damage announced. By this time the Vail Police Department, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are all working together on the case.

At 4:15 p.m., it is announced publicly that $12 million dollars in structural damage has occurred as a result of seven separate fires which began simultaneously. At this point, the fires had been contained and the Vail Valley Foundation confirms that the fire damage will have no effect on the upcoming World Alpine Ski Championships.

At 9:15 p.m., The larger structures damaged by the fire are still smoldering and investigators may have to wait to examine evidence.

The following morning, Tuesday, October 20 at 9:15 a.m., members of the media are given a tour by Vail Associates to assess the damages. Investigators rule out a "force of nature" or accident as cause of the fire.

Laura Hertz, Mountain Zone Correspondent

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