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One dead in San Diego residential hotel fire, dozen injured

December 17, 2004

SignOnSanDiego
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," he added.

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 inside it.

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 morning hours.


 
 
 
   
 
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