MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — A fire that caused major damage to a three-story motel is believed to have been deliberately set.
The Relax Inn, home to 30 residents, caught fire Saturday at 2:04 a.m. Authorities said no one was injured in the blaze.
The fire damaged about 40 percent of the motel, located at 3001Heritage Road, according to Milledgeville Fire Rescue Chief William Collier.
“At this time, we believe it was an arson fire,” Collier said. “That’s based upon evidence that we’ve gathered thus far.”
Collier said the arson suspicions are based on interviews with several people at the scene.
“During those interviews, we were led to believe this fire was caused by someone setting it deliberately,” Collier said.
The city fire chief said as soon as the official cause of the fire is determined that he will announce it publicly.
An investigator from the Georgia Insurance Commission and Fire Marshal’s Office was expected to go to the scene with local fire officials Monday afternoon to assess the damages and assist local fire officials in the investigation.
Milledgeville Fire Rescue Investigator Capt. Edward Barnwell is heading up the investigation
Collier said surveillance video footage from the motel was secured by authorities and will be reviewed.
“That will give us pretty much an assurance in terms of what we’re suspecting at the moment,” Collier said. “Right now everything is leaning toward this fire having been intentionally set.”
He said when the city’s firefighters arrived on the scene that they encountered a large working structure fire.
“Flames were going through the roof on the third floor, “ Collier told the newspaper during a telephone interview Monday morning. “The flames were reaching at a minimum of 15 feet into the air. It (fire) was rocking and rolling.”
Collier said firefighters began an aerial attack on the third floor.
“There were two rooms on that third floor, which were fully involved upon our arrival,” Collier said.
The city fire chief said the two rooms that were engulfed by flames when firefighters arrived are believed to be where the fire started.
“We think it started in one of those rooms,” Collier said.
The city fire chief said the motel is owned by Henry Patel and that there was no sprinkler system in the building.
Asked if there were smoke alarms, Collier said in the rooms that were checked for the presence of fire alarms that firefighters found none.
Baldwin County Fire Rescue Chief Victor Young said 13 firefighters, including staff and volunteers, went to the fire scene and assisted city firefighters in battling the fire.
He said one volunteer firefighter was overcome by heat exhaustion and was given fluid at the local hospital and later discharged.
“He’s doing just fine now,” Young said Monday afternoon.
Nearly two dozen city and county firefighters battled intense heat, smoke and flames for at least 90 minutes before they were able to bring the fire under control, Collier said.
Collier said about 30 residents were living in the Relax Inn, including a wheelchair-bound person who was living on the first floor.
Firefighters stayed on the scene of the fire for about seven hours, dousing hot spots and making sure the fire didn’t flare back up, the city fire chief said.