- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Fire broke out at a five-story motel early yesterday while guests slept, killing six and forcing others to leap from windows or climb down bedsheets to safety, authorities say.

At least a dozen people were injured at the Comfort Inn, including four being treated at a burn unit in Augusta, Ga.

“I opened the door, and all we saw was smoke,” said Donessa Wilson. She and her boyfriend were awakened on the fourth floor by a fire alarm and then heard a woman running down the hall screaming.

The motel had standpipes and wall-mounted hoses in the hallways and stairwells, but none had been activated and no fire extinguishers were used before emergency crews arrived, said Wade Hampton Fire Chief Gary Downey. He said he didn’t know the last time the building had been inspected but that it was not required to have sprinklers.

“If there had been sprinkler systems in the hallways, probably the fatalities and injuries would not have been near what they were,” Chief Downey said.

The blaze began about 4 a.m. on the third floor. The cause was under investigation.

Miss Wilson said she called the front desk and was told to escape down the front stairwell.

“We couldn’t see. There were people falling all over each other. We just kept going until we saw some light,” she said.

Greenville County Sheriff’s Sgt. Shea Smith said deputies arrived before firefighters and ran into the building to evacuate people, but they couldn’t get past the second floor because of smoke.

“The people that came out of their rooms, they didn’t have much of a chance,” Chief Downey said. “They get the smoke filled in there, and they panic, and panic takes over for them.”

A boy was found dead close to the body of a woman, and two women were found in the third-floor hall, said Greenville County Coroner Parks Evans. A man and a woman were found dead in separate rooms on the third floor, he said.

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