Pine Creek Cookhouse destroyed by explosion |

Pine Creek Cookhouse destroyed by explosion

Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Pine Creek Cookhouse burned to the ground on Thursday afternoon.

The restaurant’s manager said a large explosion rocked the restaurant from its foundation, and immediately engulfed the restaurant in flames. No one was injured in the blaze.

Within minutes, the roof had collapsed. Because of the restaurant’s substantial distance from Aspen – at Ashcroft cross-country ski area – and the closed road it sits along, the Aspen Fire Department was at a loss to put out the fire.

Ashcroft ski area is 12 miles up the Castle Creek Valley from Aspen. The cookhouse is located about a mile past the point where Castle Creek Road is closed each winter to accommodate nordic skiing.

Aspen Fire Department engines couldn’t get any closer than the road’s locked gate, so two firefighters were sent up the road on snowmobiles to survey the fire.

Fire Chief Darryl Grob said the restaurant was already a total loss once the three engines and 20 firefighters arrived at the locked gate. No other structures nearby were threatened by the fire.

“The snowpack right now ensures that there’s no chance of this fire spreading,” Grob said.

The cause of the fire will be under investigation through the weekend, said Deputy Fire Chief Orrin Moon. He said the structure will probably “sit and burn” for a couple of days.

Pine Creek Cookhouse owner John Wilcox said the restaurant’s manager, Jeff Olsen, was leaving the restaurant at 4:30 when a explosion shook the building, the structure catching fire immediately.

Olsen could not be reached for further comment.

The restaurant was open for its last day of winter business on Sunday, although it was scheduled to host a nordic skiing benefit tomorrow.

The Wilcox family was in downtown Aspen when they got the call from Olsen, and immediately headed up the valley. They have owned the cookhouse since 1986, although the building has been a restaurant since 1971.

John and Juliet Wilcox stood down the hill from their restaurant with their three children: John, 10, Annabelle, 8, and Sophie, 7 months. Sophie was baptized in front of the Cookhouse on Sunday, they said.

Wilcox brought out his small video camera and stood 500 feet away from the fire, taking in the flaming ruins. Remnants of the building lay scattered in the snow – an overturned deck table alongside the flames, a window 25 feet away, and a ring of earth around the building where the snow had melted.

“We said a prayer that no one was in it – that’s the important thing,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox didn’t hesitate to say there was “no question” he and his family would rebuild a restaurant at the site.

“Pine Creek had lot of charm, but really it’s where it’s located – that’s the charm, that’s what makes it so special,” he said. ” We feel comfortable that we’ll be able to replicate it. We’ll be back with something as fun or more fun that what we had in that old building.”

Ten people worked in the restaurant during the winter, he said. The one-story cedar and pine structure was 1,452 square feet and seated 60 for lunch or dinner. Ashcroft’s 600 acres contains miles of tracks for nordic skiing, and the restaurant was open for skiers and sleigh riders in the winter, and hikers in the summer.

“Our mandate was to have a fun atmosphere and some really good food,” Wilcox said. “We were 100 percent full for lunch and dinner in the winter, and summer was getting just as busy.”

The food and wine storage area on the side of the structure erupted into flames as Wilcox spoke, and the restaurant’s fireplace stood in the center of the inferno.

The rest of the 20 firefighters who responded to the call stood in their fire gear in the parking lot next to the closure gates and left the area by 5:30 p.m. Firefighter Roy Holloway brought his own snowmobiles from his home to the incident for the department to use.

Although the fire department brought portable pumps to draw water from nearby water sources, the small pond near the building wouldn’t have been adequate for extinguishing the flames, fire officials said.

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