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Hotel fire in Natick forces evacuationAbout 200 guests at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Natick were evacuated early Saturday after a fire in the seventh floor spewed heavy smoke, shrouding part of the hotel's seven floors, said Natick Fire department.

The fire broke out at 3:30 a.m. in the kitchen area of the seventh floor when a dishwasher caught fire, said deputy fire chief Michael Slattery. The fire is under investigation. No injuries were reported, and damage was estimated at $5,000.

"The fire spread to the walls around the kitchen area," said Slattery. "There was heavy smoke in the sixth and seventh floors, and we had to evacuate the entire hotel."

Crews that went up to the seventh floor were met with smoke in the hallway, said Slattery. There was still some fire when firefighters got to the kitchen, where the blazed started, he said.

Firefighters used positive pressure ventilation fans, which create positive pressure inside a building and remove smoke and replace it with fresher, cooler air.

The situation was under control in 45 minutes. Guests were in the parking lot for 2<+>1<+>/<->2<-> hours and were allowed to go back in the hotel around 6 a.m., said Slattery.

Guests were cooperative, said Judy Rosenthal, regional director of operations, and by late morning, business was as usual, with guests sitting down at the lobby or the restaurant in the first floor.

"Business is back to normal," she said. "The building was evacuated, and the situation was resolved quickly. We're very appreciative of the efforts of the firefighters."

All 17 Natick firefighters on duty yesterday morning were at the scene, with some putting out the fire and others helping evacuate the guests.


11:00 - 30 August 2007

Firefighters battling a terrifying hotel blaze in a Cornish seaside town were faced with clogged-up fire hydrants that could not be used.When crews arrived at the burning building in Newquay, hydrants nearby had silted-up with debris and were useless in quelling the raging flames.

Fire bosses last night said that "a number" of the underground fire hydrants had silted up with mud, sand and debris and that crews had to run around until they found one that worked.

Three people lost their lives in the fire that ripped through the Penhallow Hotel at around midnight on August 10.

The contract for checking the fire hydrants, owned by South West Water, was given to WS Atkins engineers under a PFI scheme in 2001 - up until then the fire service had been responsible.

A spokesman for Cornwall Fire Service last night said: "The fire hydrants were checked earlier this year in January by WS Atkins. However, on the night of the Penhallow Hotel fire a number of hydrants were found to be covered in silt and couldn't be used.

"As there was no time to clear the hydrants out firefighters had to keep going until they found one. Unfortunately a driver had parked his or her car over one fire hydrant. Fire crews had to move the vehicle in order to reach the water supply."

The spokesman added: "Cornwall County Fire Service follows national guidelines which state that water hydrants are subject to visual examination only. The hydrants are all part of the ongoing investigation."

Fire Brigades' Union (FBU) bosses, branded the visual examination guideline as "ridiculous."

Terry Nottle, FBU secretary for Cornwall, said: "We have long argued against this style of inspection. Sadly, it takes a tragedy like the Penhallow fire to highlight the ridiculous system that operates.

"Let's face it - if a contractor can get away with a quick five-minute look then he's going to do it because it saves time and money for the company. Wet testing the fire hydrant would take around half an hour."

Mr Nottle said the FBU in Cornwall was fighting to take back around 1,000 high risk fire hydrants across the county to wet test them themselves.

He said: "The only way the system will work properly is if firefighters on the ground are continually checking the hydrants as part of their normal duties and not just every two years.

"Grass roots fire crews know what needs to be done to protect the public and we should be allowed to get on and do it. We've had these sort of problems before. Unfortunately the Penhallow was not an isolated incident."

In a town the size of Newquay fire hydrants are placed about 90 metres from each other.

Dan Rogerson, Lib-Dem MP for North Cornwall said: "I'm staggered that it is deemed all right that a visual examination of a fire hydrant is acceptable. We are seeing more and more revelations about what happened that night.

"These worrying matters will have to be dealt with by Cornwall County Council when it publishes its report into what happened. I would certainly back the FBU's fight to reclaim the fire hydrants."

A fire service source, quoted in a local newspaper, said: "The main problem firefighters faced when they got to the scene was that the hydrants in the immediate vicinity were all seized up. This led to a delay while the crew found alternative hydrants further in the town.

"It also lowered the pressure because the water was coming from a greater distance away."

Eyewitness Wayne Roberts who watched as the fire took a grip, told the same newspaper: "Everyone says the fire took hold really quickly, but in my memory there was actually quite a long time before the fire service started putting water on the blaze.

"When they finally did it really looked as if they were watering down the steps. It really was rather weak and it was only when the fire was well under way that they got some serious water on it."

Under the terms of the contract, every two years WS Atkins are obliged to carry out checks to make sure that silt has not built up.

The source at the fire service added: "A similar problem happened in St Ives last year. The inspections do not take into account the fact that some hydrants in Cornwall are exposed to sea air and are much more likely to corrode."

A spokesman for WS Atkins told the WMN: "Cornwall County Council are our client and for commercial reasons it would be inappropriate for us to comment because of client confidentiality."

Physics teacher Peter Hughes, 43, from Cheslyn Hay, Staffordshire, died after he hurled himself from a third-floor window. During the search of the devastated hotel two sets of charred remains were discovered. One is believed to belong to Mr Hughes' disabled mother Monica, 86.

In Devon the county council employs two full-time hydrant officers who continually check the apparatus.

A spokesman for Devon and Somerset Fire Service, said: "All our water hydrants are owned by South West Water but we maintain them, inspect them and pay for any necessary work that needs to be done.

"Our hydrant officers are out and about continually checking everything is in working order."



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