Early morning blaze strikes Natchez Hotel

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, February 20, 2008

NATCHEZ — A fire that started in room 201 of the Relax Inn on U.S. 61 South quickly spread and destroyed much of the building.

The Natchez Fire Department has ruled the fire accidental.

Chief Paul Johnson said the fire is believed to have started in or near the room’s air conditioning unit.

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The hotel’s 88 rooms were divided in two buildings. The fire damaged only one of the buildings, containing 50 rooms.

The hotel’s owner, Alex Patel, said most of the rooms that were not directly impacted by the fire were damaged by smoke and water.

The fire, which started before 1:30 a.m., was still giving the Natchez Fire Department problems several hours later.

Around 11 a.m. fire crews continued to put out small fires that originated on what was left of the roof.

One firemen at the scene said the roofing asphalt routinely reignites and is problematic for firemen.

Guests of the hotel milled around the parking lot as smoke from the smoldering structure hung in the air.

Modesto Dominguez, a patron, said he was at the hotel when the blaze began.

He said his room was just a few doors down from the room where the fire originated.

Dominguez said just before he noticed the smoke and fire he heard loud noises coming from the room where the fire started.

Only moments later he said he saw large flames coming from room 201.

Red Cross Chapter Manager Angela Brown said a shelter at Parkway Baptist Church has been opened to temporarily house those who once called the hotel home.

Brown said many at the hotel used it as a full-time residence.

The Red Cross is currently giving aid to approximately 20 victims of the fire.

But on Wednesday morning the Patels looked most victimized by the fire.

Standing in the dim lobby of the front office Alex, and his wife Sonya, tried to decide on their next move.

Both looked to be in shock from the morning’s events.

“We are blind right now,” Sonya said. “We don’t know anything now.”

Alex said once torn down, the damaged portion of the hotel will likely not be replaced.