Published on : Wednesday, February 12, 2020
The Fairfield Inn & Suites has been shuttered after a fire that drove 30 guests from the hotel last Sunday night. The fire officials investigating the blaze determined that it was an accidental fire caused by a mechanical failure in the hotel’s HVAC system. But, Fire Chief Stephen Coleman said, the hotel owner had not complied with an order from nearly a year ago to clean the system.
After reviewing the circumstances of the fire and inspecting the hotel, local officials issued a stop-work order for an ongoing renovation project, revoked the renovation permit and pulled the inn’s occupancy permit, forcing the business to close, Coleman said.
While it did not contribute to a slow activation of the hotel’s fire alarm system, investigators also discovered some smoke detectors had been covered with dust covers in an unoccupied area of the second floor, Coleman said.
Coleman said the fire was likely burning for two to three hours before it was discovered. He said it started when the heating system malfunctioned and dropped debris into some fire-retardant cellulose insulation.
That insulation burned slowly until the flames found other, faster burning materials, and because of the proximity to the HVAC system, smoke began flowing through the vents into the rooms below, the chief explained. The damage left the roof compromised and a structural engineer will have to work with the owner, Vijay Shah, to rectify that problem, Coleman said.
While there were no injuries, Coleman said he was troubled by what he saw at the hotel on Sunday. In addition to the code violations, he said, guests seemed unconcerned about the fire. That kept firefighters from tending to other duties, he said.
There was also concern because the first odor of smoke came shortly after 7 p.m. when a guest on the third floor noticed the smell but didn’t report it. More than an hour later, someone called 911 as smoke began thickening, Coleman said.
The hotel, which opened in 2005, has been undergoing renovations, which meant there were fewer guests than normal on Sunday, the chief said.
He reminded travelers that they should take certain precautions when they are staying in a hotel: Know where exits are located, keep weather-appropriate clothing and shoes and a cellphone at the ready in case of an evacuation, and heed emergency personnel when they evacuate a building. Having a plan when traveling with others is also crucial. Setting up a meeting place outside the hotel in case family members become separated is also a good idea, he said.