Fatal hotel fire threatens downtown Reno
EXPLOSION AND FIRE took the lives of six people and destroyed the 56-year-old Golden Hotel, in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday morning, April 3. The block in which the hotel is situated had long been considered the greatest fire hazard in the city, and was pointed out as such some years ago by the National Board of Fire Underwriters.
The fire is believed to have started in the basement of the hotel in or near an acetylene torch, with the first alarm transmitted at 6:57 a.m. to the Reno Fire Department. Engines 1 and 3 responded with Battalion Chief Kestell. Upon checking Box 14, and finding that it had not been pulled, Chief Kestell and the companies immediately went to the Golden Hotel which is about a half-block away.
The hotel was equipped with an automatic alarm system, connected to Box 14. Checking the indicator panel boards, Chief Kestell found that the pointers were tipped to the basement and kitchen areas. At this time, a security guard informed him that the fire was in the basement, and led the fire fighters down a corridor to the engineer’s section where they found the room entirely involved in flames. The guard also informed the chief that some kind of torch was on fire, and said he believed it to be acetylene. By this time, the captain and crew of Engine 1 had a booster line on the fire, but immediately an explosion occurred, scattering fire in all directions and driving the men from the room.
The chief then sent a second alarm. By this time, Engine 3 had heavy lines stretched and charged, and an attempt was made to enter the room again. But the spread of the fire and the intense heat and smoke made conditions impossible to remain.
By this time, the writer had reached the scene and ordered all possible manpower to search and evacuate the hotel, leaving one crew on the hose lines. Men, with and without breathing apparatus went through the building, sounding the alarm and assisting persons from the building until the heat and smoke became so intense that a human could no longer remain.
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FATAL HOTEL FIRE
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During this time, additional personnel and equipment arrived and were placed in various locations surrounding the building and protecting exposures. In a short time the fire had traveled through the structure and was breaking out on the roof. Lines were laid to the standpipes of adjoining buildings and monitors and hand lines operated, pouring water on the roof and through other openings to prevent the fire from spreading. Stead Air Force Base called and offered aid, as did Sparks and Carson City, which was gratef ully accepted. Stead sent in manpower and Sparks sent in a pumper and crew who assisted in rescue and fire fighting. Later, Carson City arrived with their new elevating platform to which three hose lines were connected. This apparatus helped the operations greatly.
The fire was under control at approximately 12:30 p.m., but water was poured into the building until 5:00 p.m., at which time all but three nozzles were cut off. The three nozzles were left as a watch line for three days.
During the course of the fire, the upper three floors collapsed, leaving the building a gutted ruin. An inspection of the building remains and rubble disclosed that it was lacking in fire stops and other protection. In its 56 years of existence, the hotel had changed owners many times, all of whom made alterations leading to the creation of blind partitions, dropped ceilings, etc., factors which led to the rapid and unchecked spread of the fire. Except for the outside walls which were brick, construction was wood throughout.
After the fire, a construction firm was hired by insurance adjusters to pull down the dangerously hanging walls. When the walls were pulled down, operations began to recover valuables left by guests in rooms, and in the tables and machines in the casino area. Many items of value were recovered, and construction crews were still working in the debris weeks later. The acetylene equipment in the basement of the hotel, where the fire originated, was partially recovered and placed in lock-up in fire department headquarters pending complete examination, and determination of the fire cause.
During the course of the fire, the Division of Forestry offered to drop water from a Forestry Service tankerplane, but this was refused when it was learned that all men and equipment would have to be removed from the area surrounding the hotel. The plane did, however, make a practice drop of 150 gallons of water after the fire was under control with the permission of the writer.
Considering the time of occurrence, with an estimated 100 guests asleep in their rooms, it is almost miraculous that only six people succumbed to the fire. Almost miraculous, that is, except for the dedicated firemen who searched through the smoke-filled halls finding and leading people to safety until the heat and smoke became more than man could take.