Richmond hotel fire kills U.S. woman
VANCOUVER -- As a fire burned just outside their
hotel room doors and thick, hot smoke melted plastic
signs in the hallway, guests at the Richmond Inn
tied bed sheets to their balcony railings and climbed
to safety late Thursday night.
The blaze claimed the life of a 49-year-old woman
from Maryland. A second person remains in hospital
in critical condition.
While about 350 people got out after the fire began
at about 11 p.m. in a two-storey courtyard building,
a few men on the ground floor climbed atop chairs
they had hauled from their rooms to help other guests
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"I'm eternally grateful for those gentlemen,"
said Maureen Wilson, 63, whose second-storey room was just
doors away from the flames. "I'd have had to jump if
they hadn't been down there."
She and three relatives had just finished an Alaskan cruise
and had planned to return home to Groves, Tex., the day
Their flight was cancelled because it would have taken
them into the path of hurricane Rita.
But Thursday night was like jumping from the frying pan
into the fire, said Ms. Wilson's brother-in-law, Bruce Latiolais,
"I'd just got out of the shower, and I heard my wife
banging, saying there's a fire. I said, 'Oh my God,' and
put on my jeans.
"We got some towels [to breathe through], and got
ready to go down the hallway, but the door was too hot,"
"I cracked the door, and the heat hit me in the face.
It was bad."
They heard glass breaking from the pressure of the hot
smoke, and retreated to the balcony, where Ms. Wilson was
already hollering for help, he said.
That's when they started tying the sheets.
The woman who died and the victim in critical condition
had tried to go through the hallway, but were knocked unconscious
by the smoke, carbon monoxide and noxious chemicals from
burning plastic, firefighters said later.
Another 12 people were taken to hospital, mostly for smoke
inhalation, but released.
Campbell River resident Bryan Bowie said flames licked
the walls outside his ground-floor room. The 57-year-old
and his friend, Gunnar Bagged, 55, took a chair and they
and others climbed up to steady the Wilsons' and the Latiolais'
"We didn't know who they were, but we helped,"
Mr. Bowie said yesterday morning.
Hotel staff, firefighters and police joined the effort,
removing people from the balconies using extension ladders.
Mr. Bowie said he thought he wouldn't see the Texans again.
But as hotel guests milled about the lobby yesterday morning
recovering bags left in the rooms during the escape, Mr.
Wilson's wife, Janis -- still in her nightgown, the only
thing she could pull from her room the night before -- saw
Mr. Bowie and gave him a big hug.
The Richmond Fire Department used all of its equipment
in the fire, Chief Jim Hancock said.
Firefighters made a stand where the two-storey courtyard
buildings connected with an eight-storey hotel tower, he
said, because if the fire had spread, flames would have
leaped up elevator shafts as if they were chimneys.
The fire was extinguished within half an hour, and it was
amazing that more people weren't hurt, he said.
The damage could have been far worse; the 33-year-old two-storey
sections where the fire occurred were built before sprinklers
were required by law.
"Our building codes need to be beefed up [to require
sprinklers for older buildings]," Chief Hancock said.
Staff members at the 389-room hotel had their hands full
trying to find accommodation for occupants of the 280 rooms
that were damaged, said Jim Nesbitt, vice-president of the
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