|By Claudia Van Nes, The Hartford Courant, Conn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 7, 2005 - MERIDEN -- Two upscale hotels scheduled to open this fall on the Berlin Turnpike were destroyed by fire early Saturday, causing at least $5 million in damage just one week before the sprinkler system was to be activated at the larger of the two hotels.
No one was injured in the three-alarm fire, whose cause will take some time to determine because of the extensive damage, fire and police officials said.
The larger hotel, a 90-room Holiday Inn Express in the third year of its construction, was envisioned to be a more luxurious hotel on this stretch of turnpike near the Berlin border.
The property is owned by Jay Patel of RK Construction of Branford, who has built and manages about a dozen hotels in southeastern Connecticut and has several more under construction.
The fire, according to fire officials, started in the smaller of the two hotels, to be named Deluxe Luxury Hotel. That building's exterior was completed, although the interior needed considerably more work, Fire Marshal Bob Morpurgo said.
The fire gutted the roughly 6,400-square-foot Deluxe hotel to such an extent that fire officials believed even the blackened hole of a foundation would have to be excavated again.
The fire quickly spread to the nearby Holiday Inn, which is about 20,000 square feet. Its third floor was 90 percent finished, with the wallpaper up and the granite counters and octagonal marble bathtubs installed. "It was going to be classy," said Morpurgo.
The entire building, including the basement, was ravaged by the fire, and officials said they believe that the remaining charred walls will have to come down.
A separate building scheduled to house the hotel's banquet facilities and some shops sustained less damage.
The fire was so intense that it melted a portable toilet at the edge of the property, blackened a bulldozer sitting on the land and buckled the vinyl siding on the rear of a home in a new subdivision behind the site.
The sprinkler installed and approved for operation by the fire marshal's office in the Holiday Inn was to be filled with water and operational in a week, said Jim Williams, owner of Harwinton-based Allied Sprinkler and Mechanical. Williams, who visited the site Saturday afternoon, predicted that the sprinkler system, if working, could have saved the larger structure.
As it was, all the plumbing his company installed, his equipment and even his employees' tool boxes were reduced to ashes.
The site was being roped off late Saturday afternoon and will be patrolled by police until Monday, when the insurance company can assess the situation, Deputy Fire Marshal Steve Trella said.
Morpurgo said that neighbors reported "kids in the area setting fires on the property."
Police and fire officials had already interviewed more than 30 neighbors and others who witnessed the fire, but officials did not want to pin the cause on arson yet.
Patel, who was on the scene Saturday afternoon, said his "heart was breaking," and he was unsure whether he would rebuild.
To see more of The Hartford Courant, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.courant.com.
Copyright (c) 2005, The Hartford Courant, Conn.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail email@example.com. IHG,