| One dead in San Diego
residential hotel fire, dozen injured
December 17, 2004
The Mason Hotel fire Friday morning resulted in one death
and 17 injuries.
SAN DIEGO – A fire sparked by a careless smoker tore
through a hotel in the Centre City district Friday, killing
one person, injuring 17 others – including a police
officer – and causing more than $1 million in damage.
Flames began spreading through the three-story Mason Hotel,
a low-income lodging house at the northern edge of downtown
San Diego, about 7 a.m., authorities said.
Arriving engine crews had to help several people escape
the 1345 Fifth Ave. structure through windows and down ladders.
Firefighters found a body while battling the blaze, police
said. The victim's name was not immediately available.
Mason Hotel resident Kyle Pruitt described struggling through
smoke so thick he "couldn't breathe, couldn't see"
and could not stay on his feet.
"I had to roll my way down three staircases...not
walk – roll – and cover my face with a towel
and my robe," he told a television reporter. "That's
how I made it down to the first floor."
Several maintenance oversights worsened the crisis, most
notably the fact that one of two first-story exits was padlocked
shut, said Maurice Luque, Fire Department spokesman.
"Our firefighters had to break down that door and
found...residents there in the hallway, kind of panicked,
overcome by smoke," Luque said. "And they were
rescued. But the door should have been unlocked."
Also, several stairwell doors were improperly left open,
allowing flames to spread quickly through the top stories
of the hotel, he added.
Seventeen people, including a police officer who suffered
smoke inhalation, were treated at the scene for burns and
other injuries. Ambulance crews took 11 patients to Scripps
Mercy Hospital and UCSD Medical Center, both in Hillcrest.
Several were admitted in critical condition.
Hours after the fire was extinguished, seven of the 21
people who lived at the 27-room hotel remained unaccounted
for, though repeated sweeps of the building had turned up
no additional victims, Luque said.
"So those residents are obviously elsewhere,"
Investigators determined that "discarded smoking materials"
started the blaze.
The flames caused an estimated $1.2 million in damage to
the structure – which had no fire-sprinkler system
– and destroyed roughly $250,000 worth of property
Some 125 firefighters from San Diego and Chula Vista battled
the blaze, which closed a stretch of heavily traveled Fifth
Avenue and a section of nearby A Street through the late