Carol Fraser has had her trial by fire in the hotel business -- literally. On April 9, she watched what she had hoped would be the crown jewel of the Aspen Hotels of Alaska chain burn to the ground in downtown Anchorage."It was really horrible," said Fraser, vice president and co-owner of the chain. "We went through anger, sadness, complete despair, shock and confusion."The four-story, 90-room hotel was 90 percent complete when the fire occurred. The Anchorage Fire Department estimated the loss at $5.2 million. The fire was intentionally set by "person or persons unknown," according to a June 10 press release from the department, and its investigation is continuing. Fraser said the hotel was fully insured.After the fire, however, something wonderful happened. "People we didn’t even know called to offer condolences," Fraser recalls. "People sent food. My office was completely filled with flowers. We got offers of support from clients, the city, the travel industry."That response helped Fraser and her partner, George Swift, decide to rebuild. "Friday morning (April 12, three days after the fire) we decided, ’Yup, we’re going to do this again,’ " Fraser said. "Brush off your pants, it’s time to do this."The first thing Fraser did was to order another set of plans for the project. "The first set was burned."As it turned out, the foundation of the hotel was in good shape, but some of the utility pipes imbedded in it had melted. Those problems have been repaired, and on June 1 the first wall of the replacement hotel was raised.The Anchorage Aspen Hotel is now scheduled to open March 1, 2003. "As of today, I am sick of construction," Fraser said. "I just want to have a chain of hotels and market them and run them." That’s a concise summary of a dream that Fraser and Swift have shared for the past several years. Even with the fire, they are well on their way toward completing the dream in a remarkably short period of time.Swift is president of Seattle-based Western Steel Inc., which serves as the general contractor on all the Aspen properties. He is president of the Aspen chain. Fraser assists in the design and helps oversee construction of each hotel; once they’re completed, she serves as marketing director and operations manager for the chain. Each hotel is a separate limited-liability corporation, owned 50-50 by Swift and Fraser.Fraser said she met Swift in 1997 when she was hired as general manager of the Clarion Suites in Anchorage, which Swift was building. When another Swift project, the Hawthorne Suites hotel, was completed in 1999, she managed it, as well. She said being around while the hotels were being built helped her learn the construction side of the business.Three years ago, Swift sold his interest in the Clarion and Hawthorne. "George had a dream of building around the state," Fraser said. "He knew he needed a marketing person." That person was Fraser.The partners’ first project was in Juneau, where Swift had purchased property for a hotel. Construction began in 1999. Even before the hotel was completed, "I got a call that the Village Inn in Valdez was for sale," Fraser said.The partners bought the property, began renovating it in December 1999, and it opened in March 2000. The Juneau hotel opened two months later.Then, Fraser got another call from a real estate agent in Fairbanks about a piece of property suitable for a hotel in the Interior city. The partners independently checked it out and agreed it would work. The Fairbanks Aspen Hotel opened in April 2001.Yet another phone call led to what Fraser called "a beautiful piece of land on the Kenai River," which eventually became the home of the Soldotna Aspen Hotel. It opened in March this year.In three years, the partners had either bought or built four hotels. "Things just fell into our laps," Fraser said.Fraser said she and Swift had been eyeing the Anchorage market all along, but were concerned that a construction boom in the late 1990s had created a glut of hotel rooms.An improving market, along with the fact that many of their customers had to go through Anchorage to get to places like Valdez and Soldotna, convinced the partners to make their move in Alaska’s largest city, Fraser said. They bought a piece of property at Eighth Avenue and A Street and began construction last year.The Anchorage hotel will be what Fraser called the "crown jewel" of the chain. It will include extended stay suites similar to one-bedroom apartments, plus family suites with a separate room for the children. It will also have one large "presidential" suite, Fraser said.Those features will help differentiate the hotel from the competition. Fraser said her chain’s other selling point will be a high level of service.To make sure that happens, Fraser has hired all women to run each of the chain’s five properties. "Women make better general managers because they care more on a personal level in a service industry," she said. "In the long run, it makes a huge difference."Fraser said that until two recent marriages -- including hers -- all the general managers in the chain were single mothers. "Single moms work harder than anybody else," she said. "They have to support their families."The strategy is working, Fraser said. "Our service is outstanding, our employees are staying with us, and we have very, very loyal customers."It’s all a far cry from her college days, when Fraser studied to be a concert pianist. She came to Alaska in 1991, and, with virtually no experience, worked in marketing at the Best Western Barratt Inn in Anchorage."I fell in love with it," she said. "It was exciting and different. I was fulfilling peoples’ dreams of coming to Alaska."I also discovered I was pretty good at it."Eleven years later, she’s eager to get back to marketing, as soon as the Anchorage hotel is rebuilt. But she will never forget the night her hotel burned down."I was amazed at how fast the Red Cross showed up to help the firefighters with hot coffee," Fraser recalls. "I got so cold that I finally asked if I could have some coffee, too, and they said, ’Sure.’ "Fraser said that once the Anchorage hotel is built, she will put it on the Red Cross list of places people can go to if they are displaced by a fire."We want to give back to the community," she said.