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Published: Monday, 2/26/2007

Blaze forces evacuation from a downtown hotel

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Guests who evacuated the Park Inn downtown as a precaution early yesterday morning wait in the SeaGate Convention Centre. Several of the evacuees were at the hotel for a convention of Circle K, the college affiliate of Kiwanis International. Guests who evacuated the Park Inn downtown as a precaution early yesterday morning wait in the SeaGate Convention Centre. Several of the evacuees were at the hotel for a convention of Circle K, the college affiliate of Kiwanis International.
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A Toledo Edison transformer fire in downtown Toledo yesterday left the Park Inn hotel in the dark, forcing a convention to cut short its plans and the hotel to reschedule another big event.

Utility crews worked through the day to reroute power around the damaged transformer that caught fire in the grated underground vault next to the Park Inn - formerly the Radisson Hotel - about 6:15 a.m.

The blaze, from which flames could be seen coming from the grate, cut off power to the hotel.

Smoke circulated through the ventilation system into the hotel's lower floors, setting off smoke alarms, Toledo Fire Battalion Chief Jerry Abair said.

About 200 guests were evacuated as a precaution, the chief said, because firefighters initially did not know if the blaze had started in the hotel.

A Toledo Edison crew, left, and the Toledo Fire Department respond to a transformer fi re at the Park Inn. No one was injured. A Toledo Edison crew, left, and the Toledo Fire Department respond to a transformer fi re at the Park Inn. No one was injured.
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Firefighters later determined the fire was confined to the underground vault. No one was hurt and no one was treated for smoke inhalation, Chief Abair said.

Reggie Strauss, a Toledo Edison spokesman, said crews hoped to return power to the hotel by early today at the latest. He said the damaged transformer must be replaced, but crews would work to restore power to the hotel as quickly as possible, requiring complicated power rerouting.

An investigation of the cause may not start until today, the utility spokesman said.

Michael Sapara, the hotel's general manager, said guests were allowed to return to their rooms and check out by noon. Mr. Sapara said guests who had planned to stay at the hotel last night were booked at the Wyndham Hotel Toledo at 2 SeaGate.

Staff at the Wyndham Hotel said about a dozen people were expected to check in from the Park Inn yesterday, with the Wyndham honoring the Park Inn's rates during their stays.

A Toledo Rotary Club luncheon featuring media mogul Ted Turner today has been rescheduled for noon at the SeaGate Center, Mr. Sapara said. About 400 people are expected to attend that event.

Without power and with some emergency lights not working, some guests said they had to descend numerous flights of stairs in the dark. Some guests ended up outside in the cold before they were ushered onto Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority buses and then to the SeaGate Center.

The majority of the guests were attending a convention of Circle K, the college affiliate of Kiwanis International.

Fellow conventioneers had to carry Alicia Townsend, a junior at Dayton's Wright State University from Watertown, Conn., down seven flights of stairs in her wheelchair.

"I didn't know what was going on, and they were like, 'Oh, you have to go,'•" she said.

Several guests said they could not hear the fire alarms through their doors.

"When I opened the door, I could hear [the smoke alarms]," said Michael Green, 20, a student at Ohio Wesleyan University. "They weren't in your face like the fire alarms we have in school. I thought they were very faint."

Mr. Sapara said from the information he received, all the fire alarms were working in the hotel.

Patti and Joe McElroy of Cincinnati, who were attending the Circle K convention with their daughter Bridget, 20, a student at Bowling Green State University, said the emergency lights on the 12th floor did not work and they walked several flights of stairs in complete darkness.

"We really didn't know where we were going," said Mrs. McElroy, 50. "It was pitch-black. There weren't even lights in the hallway."

Jessica Harmon, 22, said the emergency lights worked in her hallway. She and her roommates, Emily Moorhead, 20, and Megan Drummer, 21, all students at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, said the system provided enough light for them to find their shoes with the room door open.

"Someone knocked on our door about 6:30, and I thought it was a joke at first because we're at this convention with a bunch of college students," Miss Harmon said. "But then we couldn't turn on the lights. We walked down the hall and could smell the smoke."

Chris Chapman of Maumee was staying at the hotel on the 10th floor with about eight relatives for a birthday party.

Ms. Chapman said she heard firefighters walking and talking in the hallway, and her husband noticed that the power was out. She went out into the hallway and could smell smoke, so she rousted the other members of their group in three other rooms.

"I could hear alarms, but they were distant," Ms. Chapman said. "It was pitch-black in the hall, I actually ran into a wall."

Zach Chapman, 9, a student at Holloway Elementary in Springfield Township, said he had never been involved with a fire before.

"At school, we've only had fire drills," Zach said. "It [this fire] was really scary because I knew other people could be hurt, and I couldn't see anything."

Blade staff writer David Patch contributed to this story.

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

chughes@theblade.com

or 419-724-6095.



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