VAIL, Colorado - The Fowler-Hilliard Hut, one of the most popular backcountry huts in the Vail-area, has burned down, officials said Wednesday.
"The fire is out, but the hut, at this point, is a total loss," said Patrick Thrasher, spokesman for the White River National Forest.
An eighth-grade school group was set to head up to the hut on Wednesday, and a parent had gone up that morning in advance, said Brian Lloyd, district ranger for the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District of the Forest Service. The parent discovered around 1 p.m. that the hut had burned down and called authorities, Lloyd said.
Fire trucks from the Eagle River Fire Protection District and the Forest Service responded but, by the time they arrived, the ruins were smoldering, Lloyd said.
"It was burned to the ground, is what our fire guys told me," Lloyd said. "A few logs left."
The cause of the fire is unknown and is under investigation by the Eagle County Sheriff's Office and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. A few nearby trees were scorched, but the fire was otherwise contained to the building, Lloyd said.
The last person known to be in the hut had a reservation for Saturday night and left around 11 a.m. Sunday, Lloyd said.
Ben Dodge, executive director of the Tenth Mountain Division Hut Association, said lightning was reported in the area on Sunday and Monday, and that may have sparked the fire. The hut sits on a ridge that offers great views but also exposes it to the elements.
The group "absolutely" plans to rebuild the hut in the summer of 2010, Dodge said.
For those people who have reservations at Fowler-Hilliard for the remainder of the summer or the upcoming winter, the association plans to accommodate them in some way, perhaps by offering them lodging at another hut in the system, Dodge said.
This is the first time one of the system's huts has been lost, he said.
Fowler-Hilliard was part of a system of 31 backcountry huts managed by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. People can reserve the huts in both the winter and summer for overnight or multi-day trips. The huts are popular with backcountry skiers and snowshoers in the winter and mountain bikers and hikers in the winter. The system sees about 50,000 stays in its huts per year.
The hut sat on the side of Resolution Mountain at 11,500 feet in elevation, about four miles east of Red Cliff and four miles southwest of Vail Pass. It is known for great backcountry skiing nearby the hut.
Built in 1988, the structure was named after Ann Fowler and Ed Hilliard, climbers who died in an accident near Aspen. It held 16 people and was open from Thanksgiving through April and from July through September.
The hut was commonly accessed from Camp Hale or Vail Pass, and users could link Fowler-Hilliard trips with other nearby huts, including the Jackal Hut and the Shrine Mountain Inn.
It was owned by the Tenth Mountain Division Hut Association and operated under a special permit from the Forest Service.
"I think people have really enjoyed their time at the Fowler-Hilliard Hut over the years," Dodge said. "A tremendous number of positive experiences. We look forward to building the replacement hut so people can continue to have those wonderful experiences in the future."
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or email@example.com.