Remembering America's deadliest hotel fire on its sixtieth
Nov 28, 2006
BETHESDA, MARYLAND – November 28, 2006
– In the early morning hours of December 7, 1946 a
fire at Downtown Atlanta's Winecoff Hotel left 119 people
dead and 90 people injured. This fire, which occurred 60
years ago, is still the deadliest hotel fire in the history
of the United States.
"A flawed building design was a major contributing
factor to the significant number of deaths and injuries,"
said Chris Jelenewicz, Engineering Program Manager with
the Bethesda, Maryland-Based Society of Fire Protection
"Additionally, since the building was constructed
of non-combustible materials, the building was mistakenly
thought to be fireproof. This gave the building owners and
occupants a false sense of security."
At the time of the fire, the Hotel Winecoff had only one
exit stairway available for occupants to escape the upper
floors of the 15 story building. The doors to this stairway
were not fire-rated and many of the doors were left open.
"Once the fire started on the third floor, the stairway
effectively became a chimney -- allowing the smoke and fire
to spread quickly up this stair and throughout the upper
floors," said Jelenewicz.
Many of the hotel guests died in their sleep. Because the stairway
was inaccessible, other occupants chose to jump to their deaths.
Others died by trying to escape the building while climbing down
a makeshift escape line made out of bed sheets.
Additional contributing factors to the number of deaths and injuries
included combustible interior finishes, a delay in calling the
fire department, and the lack of a fire alarm and automatic fire
Included in the death toll were 30 teenagers who were part a
Youth Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol. The teenagers were
visiting from cities and towns all across the State of Georgia
and were taking part in a "mock" legislative session.
As a result of this fire, many building and fire codes were enhanced
to make buildings including hotels safer from fire. Some of the
enhancements in the building and fire codes included provisions
for improved exiting systems, safer interior finishes, and the
installation of fire alarm and automatic fire suppression systems.
"The Winecoff Hotel Fire reminds us of the danger that is
posed by fire and the importance of designing buildings that are
safe from fire," said Jelenewicz.
"The fact of the matter, however, is that today hotels are
now much better protected. This is in large part due to the fire-safety
strategies and systems designed by fire protection engineers that
make people and property safer from fire."
A historic marker stands at the corner of Peachtree Street and
Ellis Streets in Downtown Atlanta at the site of the Winecoff
Hotel fire to commemorate the 119 lives that were lost that morning.
About Society of Fire Protection Engineers
Organized in 1950, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers is
the professional society for engineers involved in the field of
fire protection engineering. The purposes of SFPE are to advance
the science and practice of fire protection engineering, maintain
a high ethical standing among its members and foster fire protection
engineering education. SFPE's worldwide members include engineers
in private practice, in industry and in local, regional and national
government. Chapters are located in Canada, China, France, Italy,
Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore,
Spain, Sweden and the United States.
More information about SFPE can be found at