News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
TUESDAY, MAY 1, 2007

Athens motel fire forces employees, guests to evacuate

By Seth Burkett
and Holly Hollman 340-2355

ATHENS — Employees and passersby helped evacuate guests of the Best Western motel Monday night after the attic caught fire.

The 80-room motel on U.S. 72 at Interstate 65 caught fire at about 7:30 p.m. No one was hurt, but some motel guests said they were concerned about where they would lay their heads for the night.

Manager Bob Kuma said Best Western was relocating guests to other hotels.

"We had about 50 rooms rented out, so at least about 70 or 80 people (were evacuated)," Kuma said.

Most of the Athens Fire Department's personnel, about 40 firefighters, were dispatched to the blaze.

Fire Chief Cliff Christopher said the motel's attic sustained extensive fire damage and some rooms on the second floor had smoke and water damage.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation.

Investigators had not determined whether the motel's alarm or sprinkler systems failed, Christopher said.

Connie Branton and her son, Josh Branton, both of Athens, were eating at Applebee's next door when they saw flames shooting through the roof.

"We ran over here to tell the employees to sound the alarm," she said. "They couldn't sound an alarm, and we couldn't call out to 911. I told the manager or owner to start knocking on doors on one side, and we would get the other side."

Connie Branton said while she knocked on doors, she also pulled every fire alarm she saw and none of them worked.

"We had to tell people the hotel was on fire and to get out, and at least one room at first wouldn't come out because they had cats under the bed," Josh Branton said. "There were several people who came over from Applebee's to help get everyone out safely."

Kuma said the fire alarms were working. Bells placed along the exterior of the building went off, he said.

"That's how we found out (about the fire). When they pulled it, the fire alarm rang," he said.

Becky Neisig of Houston, Texas, was eating at Applebee's with her husband when they saw flames.

"We had just checked in (at Best Western) and decided to walk over and eat," she said. "We were waiting on our check when we saw the smoke."

Neisig said the couple arrived in Athens en route from Mobile. The couple is on vacation and planned to visit Nashville and Asheville, N.C.

"I don't know if we'll get a refund or not," she said. "We're going to look for another hotel."

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