FAIRBANKS - A backcountry cabin being rented by a group of firefighters burned to the ground Monday night in the Chena River State Recreation Area east of Fairbanks.
The Lower Angel Creek Cabin, located 3.6 trail miles north of Chena Hot Springs Road, was destroyed.
Seven firefighters from Fort Greely had rented both the lower and upper Angel Creek cabins for the night on Monday, according to Brooks Ludwig, northern region superintendent for Alaska State Parks in Fairbanks.
After going to Chena Hot Springs Resort, the men rode snowmachines to the lower cabin and stopped to light a fire in the wood stove, which had gone out while they were gone, Ludwig said. That was at 10:30 p.m. The men then continued 3 miles up the trail to the upper cabin to eat dinner. Some members of the group were returning to the lower cabin at about 1 a.m. Tuesday when they noticed an orange glow in the distance, Ludwig said.
“When they got back, it was fully engulfed,” he said. “The four walls had already fallen in and the roof had come down.”
One of the men drove his snowmachine out to Chena Hot Springs Road and went to the hot springs to report the fire to Alaska State Troopers, Ludwig said.
Ludwig talked to two members of the group and they told him they had damped the wood stove down before leaving for the upper cabin.
“The only think he could think of was at the bottom of the door there was a quarter-inch gap and maybe that was letting more air in than they thought,” Ludwig said. “Either that or a spark jumped out. Who knows?”
The group lost a few sleeping bags and pads in the fire but that was it, he said.
The plywood, 12-foot-by-14-foot cabin was one of five backcountry cabins that Alaska State Parks rents along a 70-mile trail system in the Chena River State Recreation Area. It was one of two cabins on the 7-mile Angel Creek Trail, which starts at Mile 50.5 on Chena Hot Springs Road.
Park officials were busy Tuesday calling people who had reserved the cabin in the coming days and weeks to inform them of the fire. Anyone who reserved the cabin will get a credit for future use of a cabin or have their money refunded, Ludwig said.
The cabin, which was built in the 1990s, was insured for $25,000 and Ludwig hopes his agency can rebuild it this summer. The cabin is popular because of its proximity to the road. State Parks also recently built a summer trail to both the upper and lower cabins. Previously, the two cabins were accessible only in the winter.
If there is a bright side, Ludwig said, it’s that the old plywood cabin can be replaced with a nicer log cabin in a better setting.
“Of all the cabins out there, if I had to burn one down, that’s the one I would have burned,” he said.
It was the second backcountry cabin to burn in the recreation area in the past 15 years. The Stiles Creek Cabin burned in 1997 and was rebuilt the following year.
Robert Schmoll with the state Division of Forestry said a crew will go to the cabin site to put out any smoldering remains that could start a wildfire next summer.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.