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WEDNESDAY, MAY 2, 2007
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Fire at motel didn't reach alarms, Athens chief says

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ATHENS — The fire that erupted in the attic and on the roof of the Best Western motel Monday never reached rooms or their fire alarms, said Athens Fire Chief Cliff Christopher.

"The smoke never got into the rooms to set them off," he said.

The 80-room motel on U.S. 72 at Interstate 65 caught fire at about 7:30 p.m. No one was hurt.

The fire apparently started on an eave at a disconnected light.

Short circuit suspected

"It looks like the wiring shorted for some reason," Christopher said. "The fire got the roof and attic, and we probably would have seen the hotel burned to the ground if the department hadn't responded as quickly as it did and applied the water in the right place."

Connie Branton of Athens and her son, Josh, were eating at Applebee's Monday night and told The Daily they saw the fire and reported it to motel employees.

"We ran over here to tell the employees to sound the alarm," Connie Branton 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."

Branton said she pulled manual fire alarms while knocking on doors but none of them worked.

Hotel manager Bob Kuma said the fire alarms did work and that bells placed along the exterior of the building went off.

Firefighters were checking the alarms Tuesday, Christopher said, but found only one pulled alarm. That alarm was in the manager's office.

"I'm not saying this woman didn't pull them," he said Tuesday.

"I'm just saying so far we've only found one that was pulled. We definitely thank the community for responding and helping get people out. You always worry someone could be left in a room."

Guests relocated

Christopher said the Red Cross kept firefighters supplied with water and the United Way offered to set up a shelter for displaced guests.

He said the owners were able to find enough rooms at the Holiday Inn Express, which they also own, and at other Athens motels.

The motel will have to undergo renovations before it can reopen, Christopher said. He said the fire and water affected eight rooms, and the attic and roof have severe structural and electrical damage.

The hotel, Christopher said, is about 20 years old and will have to update its fire system to current standards.

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