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La Posada Hotel Fire Texas,Technical Report
 
OVERVIEW

On February 25, 1987, the successful operation of a smoke detector provided the early warning that mitigated a potential multiple death fire in the La Posada Hotel in McAllen, Texas. Though the fire caused approximately $150,000 in damages, 155-160 occupants were evacuated with only one serious injury. The fire was caused by smoking in bed and sent heavy smoke throughout most of the hotel. Key negative factors in the fire included the lack of self-closing doors between guest rooms and corridors, open stairwells, and the lack of sprinklers and fire alarm systems. Key positive factors included smoke detectors in each room, light fire loading, fire resistive construction, and an unusually high proportion of occupantsfamiliar with the hotel.

BACKGROUND

The La Posada Hotel is a designated historic structure registered with the State of Texas. The original structure was built in 1918. In 1973, the building was struck by lightning which caused a major fire that destroyed the original structure with the exception of some exterior walls. The rebuilt building is three stories tall with 164 guest rooms plus meeting facilities. (See Figure 1.)

Codes

McAllen currently uses both the Southern Standard Building Code and the full set of National Fire Codes. Based upon the time frame for construction provided by Fire Department sources, the building probably was constructed to the 1973 Southern Standard Building Code. Additionally,

NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, may have been applied. Though NFPA 101 contains provisions for safety in existing buildings, no retroactive enforcement program had been established.

Construction

The building was completely reconstructed using non-combustible, fire resistive construction. The structural frame consists of concrete doubleteefloor assemblies and masonry block walls. The overall fire protection classification appears to be Type II, fire resistive. All guest rooms are separated from other guest rooms, corridors, and public areas by at least one-hour fire resistive construction with the exception of corridor doors.Corridor doors to guest rooms are panel-style wood doors, non-rated and without closing devices. These doors are hung in solid wood frames.

Exits

Exiting from the guest rooms was through interior corridors or through an operable window in each room. The building has four interior exit stairways all of which are unenclosed or inadequately enclosed, based upon the criteria for new and existing hotels contained in

NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.

Interior Finishes

All interior wall surfaces are painted. Floors in guest rooms and guest room access corridors are carpeted. (See Figure 6.)

Fire Protection System and Equipment

The only fire protection equipment in the hotel consisted of 2½ gallon pressurized water fire extinguishers, 1½ inch occupant use hosecabinets supplied by domestic water only, and battery-powered single station smoke detectors in guest rooms and storage areas. The smoke detectors are General Electric SMK-6/M1. They were located above the ceiling in the return air plenum for the room. (See Figure 7.) This location is not the recommended location according to NFPA 72E, standard on automatic fire detectors.

Fire Department

McAllen Fire Department operates six fire stations with 111 personnel.

The Department operates six engines, one truck, one rescue, and a crash-fire-rescue vehicle.

THE FIRE
ANALYSIS OF SIGNIFICANT FACTORS
LESSONS LEARNED
OTHER MISTAKES
CONCLUSION

 


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