HOUSTON — Four firefighters were killed while battling a fire that engulfed a Houston motel and restaurant today, and at least five other people were hospitalized, authorities said.
Flames were shooting from the roof of the Southwest Inn, along one of Houston's most heavily traveled expressways, and black smoke was blanketing the area are firefighters tried to extinguish the blaze.
Three firefighters were killed at the scene, while the fourth died at a hospital, according to the mayor's office and local medical examiner. Five other people were injured and are hospitalized for chest pains or leg injuries.
The loss of life is believed the single worst in the history of the 116-year-old Houston Fire Department, said Janice Evans, a spokeswoman for Houston Mayor Annise Parker.
"It's a very sad day for the Houston Fire Department and the city of Houston as a whole," Evans said.
Field reports indicate that the firefighters were caught in a roof collapse, said Jeff Caynon, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.
"I don't know if that was folks outside next to the structure or inside when it collapsed, but the collapse is going to be the cause," he said after visiting with firefighters at Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Caynon said the victims included three men and one woman. Their names haven't been released.
Firefighters were working in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, high humidity and swirling winds. When a flag-draped body was removed from the smoldering remains around 4 p.m., they paused and saluted.
The blaze broke out just after noon today at a restaurant and club at the motel, then quickly spread to the section of the building housing the motel. About 150 firefighters responded and were able to extinguish the blaze within about two hours.