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Holiday Inn in Marietta, Ga. Temporarily Closes Following Fatal Fire;
30 Year Old Hotel Did Not Have Sprinklers

By Don Plummer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

January 17, 2006 - A weekend hotel fire in Marietta that left one person dead and 20 injured spread quickly because the hotel, which is more than 30 years old, did not have sprinklers, fire officials said.

Marietta fire Chief Jackie Gibbs on Monday called the 3 a.m. Sunday blaze one of the worst hotel fires in the city's history.
"We've had hotel fires, but we've never had one this large," said Gibbs, who has been with the department 28 years. A sprinkler system would have kept the fire from spreading, he said.

"No question about it, fire sprinklers absolutely save lives, and new construction on a similar building would require fire sprinklers inside that," Gibbs said.

Many hotels and motels in Georgia built before 1991 do not have sprinklers, said state Fire Marshal John Oxendine. But a "significant fire" such as the one at the Marietta hotel triggers a requirement in the 1991 law that the hotel install sprinklers before reopening, Oxendine said.

All but one of the 168 people registered at the hotel made it out alive, Gibbs said. The body of a 34-year-old South Carolina man, identified by Marietta officials as Kevin Wayne Ardis, was found in a third-floor corridor.

Cobb County fire Chief Becky Denlinger, who had two firefighters injured while helping Marietta firefighters put out the blaze, said Sunday's fire would have been a non-incident if sprinklers had been in place.

"This fire would have been a little piddling mess we'd have been Squeegeeing up if the proper life safety equipment had been in place," Denlinger said Monday.

Intense fire broke through exterior windows and spread to at least four floors of the seven-story building, Denlinger said.

Firefighters, using ladder trucks, broke through windows and rescued at least 20 people from their burning rooms. Rescue workers also made their way through smoke-filled hallways to reach hotel guests who had barricaded themselves in their rooms for safety.

CSX Railroad employee Gregory Mahone, who was staying at the hotel along with several co-workers, said his first warning came when he awoke to a woman yelling "Fire! Fire! Fire!" in the hallway outside his sixth-floor room.

"My room was filled with smoke when the lady's screaming woke me," Mahone said after he was released Monday from Northside Hospital, where he said he was treated for severe smoke inhalation.

Pulling on his pants and boots, Mahone felt his way downstairs, losing one boot by the time he reached the third floor, where there was intense heat and smoke.

"I just started screaming for help and heard someone say, 'Take my hand,' " remembered Mahone, who lives in Ben Hill County. "It must have been a firefighter, because he put my hand on a rope that led me outside. I couldn't see anything."

Mahone recounted the harrowing ordeal late Monday after returning to the hotel with his wife and children, trying to find his luggage. As he spoke, arson investigators sifted through burned-out areas of the Holiday Inn near the Delk Road exit of I-75.

No official cause of the fire has been determined, the fire chief said, and the investigation is expected to take several weeks.

"We want to interview everyone who was there before we finalize our report," Gibbs said. However, the fire chief said, investigators think the blaze began in a second-floor room before consuming three more floors of the building. It took more than 100 firefighters an hour to bring the blaze under control, he said.

The hotel on Kingston Court does not have a sprinkler system because it was built before safety codes required them, Gibbs said. The building does have fire walls and fire doors, but Gibbs said flames bypassed those barriers and advanced upward through the walls.
Serious fire damage was found on floors two through five, and there was smoke damage throughout the building, Gibbs said.

The hotel's smoke and fire alarm system was working, Gibbs said. But some guests told reporters the alarms were faint and difficult to hear in the rooms.

The hotel, owned by Atlanta-based Lodgian, was closed after the fire. Lodgian President Ed Rohling issued a statement expressing regret over the incident.

"We are deeply saddened by the death and injuries, and our prayers are with our guests, associates and their families," Rohling's statement said in part.

The fire could have caused "a real catastrophe with a building of this size handling as many people as it does," said Billy Wood, executive director of the Georgia Fire Sprinkler Association. "If it had been fitted with sprinklers, the fire would have probably been out before firefighters arrived and it would have been opened today," he said.

Wood said outfitting the building with sprinklers would cost between $150,000 and $200,000.

"With sprinklers, the insurance rate would have come down and over several years paid for the installation," he said.

Marietta Mayor Bill Dunaway said the city has one of the toughest sprinkler ordinances "anywhere in the nation." Because of its age, he said, the hotel was "grandfathered" to allow it to operate without the sprinklers now required of similar structures.

Gibbs said the fatality was the first fire death in Marietta in at least five years.

Twenty-six injuries were reported, with one requiring an overnight hospital stay. Two firefighters with the Cobb County Fire Department, which assisted in battling the blaze, sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

To see more of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2006, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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