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Fire Completely Destroys 70-room Comfort Inn Near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;
Likely Cause an Exhaust Fan in Guest Room Bathroom

By Mitch Fryer, The Leader-Times, Kittanning, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 20, 2008 - EAST FRANKLIN -- Looking past the charred remains of the fire a week ago today that destroyed the Comfort Inn in the Hilltop Plaza, one of the owners said this week that his ownership group has plans to reopen the hotel.

"It will be rebuilt, as quickly as we can," said Prem Patel. "It's not going be vacant land."

Patel's comments confirmed an earlier report made by East Franklin fire Chief Mark Feeney.

Patel said he could not provide a definite time frame for rebuilding the structure until hearing from the insurance adjusters who are assessing the damages.

"It was an unfortunate loss, but fortunate that it was during the day when there were less people around," Patel said. "I'm happy no one was harmed, that it was just property damage that can easily be dealt with."

Fire officials estimated the loss to the 14-year-old, three-story, 70-room hotel to be about $4 million. The building was destroyed by the fire, which was concentrated in the attic and roof.

More than 100 firefighters from more than 20 fire companies from three counties battled the blaze.

Records from the county's Tax Claim office show that Midmark Star Properties, Inc. is the owner of the property.

Midmark Star Properties owns the hotel property through a franchise with Choice Hotels International.

Rocco Loverro, a media spokesperson for Choice Hotels International, confirmed the ownership.

Loverro said the hotel in East Franklin is one of several in a chain of hotels owned by Midmark Star Properties, Inc., of the Philadelphia area through a franchise with his firm. Midmark Star Properties owners are shown as Prem Patel, Chan Patel and Prakash Patel, Loverro said.

Rebuilding a structure is the decision of the property owner, Midmark Star Properties, and not the franchise owner, Choice Hotels International, Loverro said.

Loverro said Choice Hotels has contacted all guests with future reservations at the property through 2009 to advise them of the situation and to offer assistance in finding alternative accommodations.

While owners focus on rebuilding the hotel, fire investigators said they are still looking into exactly what caused an exhaust fan in the bathroom of a third-floor room to spark the fire.

"The fan itself, along with wiring and other pieces of the surrounding ceiling are being sent to a lab for analysis," Feeney said. "It could be several months before we know if it was the fan itself or the wiring leading to the fan, and what may have caused it to malfunction."

The fire, which started in Room 322, was ruled accidental, Feeney said.

Staff writer Patrick Shuster contributed to this report.

Mitch Fryer can be reached at mfryer@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303, ext. 242.

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To see more of The Leader-Times or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/leadertimes/.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Leader-Times, Kittanning, Pa.

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