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Hollywood Hotel Erupts in Flames

Aired August 16, 2001 - 08:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: It has been a morning of breaking news in Hollywood, California, where right now, you are looking at live pictures of the Palomar Hotel, a residential hotel at the corner of Santa Monica and Western. It was a short time ago fully engulfed in flames after an explosion this morning.

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. And we have been told that firefighters are going from window to window trying to see who is still inside, who may need to be rescued. You can see actually right at the center of your screen one of their ladders up on that lit window there, which is where earlier we saw firefighters actually going in to look around. You can still see flames at the top of the building.

Earlier, our fire official said that many people were actually trapped on their balconies. Firefighters did get to them. One woman, though, panicked and jumped. She is the confirmed fatality at this point in this fire.

Let's hear now from a witness describing what that person saw to our affiliate KABC.


UNIDENTIFIED EYEWITNESS: There's people that lived right over the apartment on the bottom, where I think the explosion started from, that live on the second floor. Forget it. They -- everybody on that -- the whole -- everything just collapsed. The whole back end of the building -- boom -- down upon the department that's down there with the family.


MCEDWARDS: The fire official also saying that this is a very suspicious fire -- saying that that explosion or what sounded like an explosion went off at just before 4:00 a.m. local time, about 3:41 a.m., calling it a very suspicious fire.

LIN: That's right. Very suspicious and many people injured. At least one woman, Colleen, as you said, dead.

Firefighters injured as they were scrambling up the stairway to try to get to some victims and control this fire. Several firefighters injured and one eyewitness also talking about how the ceiling started caving in. He heard an explosion. He woke up. He woke up to his ceiling falling down. He said his front door was completely blown out. His windows shattered. People running through the hallways and panicking, and he said that there are many children living in this building...


LIN: ... and still unaccounted for.

MCEDWARDS: And for all intents and purposes sounding like an explosion. This, again, is at the corner of Santa Monica and Western in Hollywood, California. It's called the Palomar Hotel. It's a residential hotel, but it's essentially people living there on the four floors. Fire officials described it as a center hallway plan. They are in there now trying to see who they can get out.

LIN: Right. And right now, we're going to go to KABC's live coverage. They are talking to Jim Wells. He is a spokesperson for the L.A. City Fire Department.


JIM WELLS, L.A. CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: ... to ensure that there are no other injured individuals in this building and/or there are no other fatalities inside of the structure.

Rescue becomes very difficult in a fire, like I say, of this magnitude, when you have the volume of fire that we encountered upon arrival and with a portion of the floors burned out and the stairwells burned out. That presents very special problems for firefighters. It impedes their ability to really aggressively attack the fire that we are so accustomed to.

But once again, firefighters have made their way through the building to attack the major portion of this fire.

UNIDENTIFIED KABC NEWS ANCHOR: Jim, the extent firefighters' injuries, do we know yet?

WELLS: I don't have the extent of their injuries at this point. I have heard that their injuries are not life-threatening as we speak. But this one firefighter, he fell, like I say again, from the fourth floor down to the second -- to a second-floor landing. So he could have very serious injuries. But I don't know at this point. And even a fall from the second floor to the first floor can produce very serious injuries also.

But once again, as soon as I get an update on these firefighters and an update on the number of injuries and the extent of injuries of the residents of this hotel, I will be sure and let you know.

UNIDENTIFIED KABC NEWS ANCHOR: All right. Jim, just for clarification -- you're L.A. City Fire, but L.A. County is out there as well. Is that correct?

WELLS: To my knowledge, Los Angeles County is not on the scene of this fire. This fire is being fought by the Los Angeles Fire Department. But once again, if they were in close proximity, and they would come on the scene, then they would be there.

But to my knowledge at this point, Los Angeles Country -- our comrades -- are not on the scene of this particular fire.

UNIDENTIFIED KABC NEWS ANCHOR: All right. Yes. We wanted to clarify that. Give you the credit for this fight. Thank you, Jim Wells reporting. He is from L.A. City Fire Department with the latest assessment of the situation out there.

In the meantime, let's go to Nikki (ph) down on the ground right now and check in with her to see how the situation is from her vantage point.

Are you there?

UNIDENTIFIED KABC REPORTER: I am right here, David. From here, we are seeing just white and black smoke at this time -- a much different scenario from when we first arrived.

Residents have told me that here at the Palomar Hotel that they were awakened by an explosion, and in some cases, the roof falling in from above their head.

Take a look at how the fire looked when we arrived on the scene: the four-floor building fully ablaze. You can see flames shooting out of every available outlet. Here, the Palomar Hotel -- it's a four- story unit building with 12 to 15 units on each floor. Residents believe most of those apartments were occupied. It is a residential hotel.

Firefighters believe at this time that they have rescued most people who are alive from inside the building. Now they are trying to assess who did not make it out.

At one point, when they were trying to get people out, a staircase collapsed from the fourth floor to the second floor injuring several firefighters. We are told we do not know the -- how those firefighters are at this time.

Many of the residents here at Palomar tell me that it was not easy to get out this morning. In some cases, they got -- just got out the fire escape. In some cases, they had to look from many other outlets to try and make it out -- that there was fire and smoke everywhere.

MCEDWARDS: You are listening to affiliate coverage here on CNN from our affiliate of KABC of a fire in a residential hotel in Hollywood, California. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED KABC REPORTER: ... hoping that they are OK. Many residents have expressed concern for the manager. The manager of the building lived on one of lower floors and did have a family.

Right now, you can see some flames still going. Firefighters from L.A. City Fire are inside at this time battling the fire. Right now, they are concentrating on getting this out. They do believe that they have everyone that was inside of this building out at this time, at least everyone that was walking around live inside.

One woman confirmed dead at this time. We are told she panicked. Firefighters were trying to get to her, and she panicked and jumped and unfortunately died from this fall.

Down here on the ground, many units on the scene from every...

MCEDWARDS: Our coverage courtesy of KABC. But right now, we want to go on the line to Jim Wells with the L.A. Fire Department. He joins us on the phone.

Mr. Wells, thanks so much. Tell us what's going on inside that building right now.

WELLS: Well, right now, we have over 100 firefighters on the scene at this incident near the intersection of North Western Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard in the Hollywood area.

This fire broke out around 3:41 this morning. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they found this four-story hotel with fire showing on all four floors. Firefighters immediately attacked the fire and also conducting a search and rescue within the structure.

When we arrive on the scene of a fire of this nature, search and rescue becomes very difficult, but firefighters entered the structure, tenaciously attacked this fire from the uninvolved portion to the involved portion, also simultaneously conducting search and rescue.

MCEDWARDS: I'm going to ask you more about that search and rescue in just a moment. But can you tell me, is everyone out at this point?

WELLS: I cannot confirm positively that everyone is out of the structure. The indication was that there were people trapped inside of the building. Many of those people have been evacuated as a result of the fire. We have had a report of one fatality to an adult female that may have jumped from one of the upper floors. We have also had a report of two injured children as a result of this fire. Their status is unknown at this point.

At least four firefighters have been injured. One firefighter fell from the fourth floor to the second-floor landing. I am not sure of his injuries, but a fall like that could produce very serious and critical injuries. We also have another firefighter fall from the second floor to the first floor, could also have sustained or suffered serious critical injuries.

Within the structure, the integrity of the building is in question simply from the standpoint that the floor on some of the floors are burned out and also the stairwells are burned out in many of the -- on many of the floors.

MCEDWARDS: And we can actually see, as you are talking there, some people clearly being treated -- being tended to by the medics there...

WELLS: Well, a...

MCEDWARDS: ... on the scene or near the scene.

WELLS: Well, a fire of this magnitude this -- and especially in the early-morning hours very well could produce injuries and fatalities.

So once again, firefighters are doing -- or did do an initial search and rescue within this structure to that portion of that structure that they could get to. After the fire is completely extinguished, they will go through this building room by room, floor by floor to find out if there are any other fatalities and/or injuries within this hotel building.

MCEDWARDS: And is that the stage they are at now? Just to be clear. Are they in the process of that room by room search at this point?

WELLS: At this point, we are starting to go room by room. We -- as we speak, we do have a knock down on this fire. In other words, the major portion of the fire has been extinguished, and the fire should not extend to any other areas within the building. This fire was extinguished at 4:57.

But once again, the complete count as far as how many people are injured or the total number of fatalities is yet to come.

MCEDWARDS: What made it so difficult for firefighters when they first got on the scene? You mentioned the extent of the flames, of course, but also the condition of the stairwells, the floors.

WELLS: Well, the obstacle that firefighters would be presented with in a fire of this magnitude is the bulk of fire in a residential- type hotel building. Once again, the fire occurred at 3:21 when many of the residents in that structure would be sleeping. These people were awaken out of a sound sleep into an area that is in -- that they could not deal with, which would cause many injuries.

And also, people not realizing that sometimes it is best to just to remain in their rooms and be rescued by firefighters instead of trying to jump from an upper floor. Because once you jump from an upper floor, you have no idea where you are going to land, and whether or not you are going to survive.

In the City of Los Angeles, your chances for survival that when we know when you are, you will be rescued by firefighters, because once again, we do attack the fire very aggressively, as other fire departments do, and do search and rescue at the same time trying to rescue any individuals that may be trapped inside of the building.

MCEDWARDS: All right. But of course, in the panic of the moment, that's a whole other story.

What kinds of things could cause an explosion like we've heard witnesses describe?

WELLS: Well, we are not sure about that. Once again, initial reports by people within the building and the surrounding area indicated that there may have been some type of an explosion. We have also heard that a car may have crashed into the building, but I see no evidence of a car that may have crashed into this building.

But once again, waking out of a sound sleep, you can hear or think you hear many things. So once again, fire investigators will have to investigate the reports that we get from the standpoint that someone said, yes, I heard an explosion. So we will have to take that into consideration.

MCEDWARDS: Sure. Sure. And I mean, as that investigation goes on, I mean, what kinds -- what kind of evidence are the investigators looking for?

WELLS: Well, they are looking for any type of evidence that they can find. They'll be talking to witnesses most of all. They will want to know why this fire, when we arrived on the scene, was already on all four floors when we arrived. But once again, investigators will have to investigate that portion of it.

MCEDWARDS: All right. Jim Wells with the L.A. Fire Department, thanks very much for your time this morning.

Again, you are looking at live pictures here on CNN from our affiliate KABC of a residential hotel fire -- the Palomar Hotel at the corner of Santa Monica and Western in Hollywood, California.



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