Early Morning Blaze Claims Businesses and Evacuates Hotel

BLYTHEVILLE- The three alarm fire started just after one Thursday morning, and it would take firefighters more than four hours to get the blaze under control.

Sun breaks just over the top of the Holiday Inn in Blytheville.

The Perkins restaurant and Bistro Eleven-21 club connected to the hotel now sit in ruins.

"Houseworth: We lost about 20-thousand square feet of commercial space, the kitchen, two restaurants, the ball room," said owner Don Houseworth.

Firefighters arrived on the scene around 1:20 in the morning after employees reported a smell of smoke.

Minutes later, overnight guests got an unexpected awakening.

"I was woken up about 1:30 this morning with pounding on the door, indicating there was a fire in the hotel and to evacuate," said Paul Bean.

He was staying in the Holiday Inn and describes the moments as the fire started.

"I gathered everything I had and went out, but my jacket was still in the room. When I went back in, my room was pretty much filled with smoke," said Bean.

By the time firefighters made the scene both Perkins and the Bistro were completely engulfed and backup was called in from surrounding areas.

"It spread so fast, that it got out of hand before we got here. That's probably because it started in the attic, and it was burning unrecognized and unnoticed," said Blytheville Assistant Fire Chief Ivory Diamond.

He says not only were firefighters battling the blaze, but the early morning temps led to icy conditions and complications in fighting the fire.

"The oxygen out here in the air is pretty low right now, it's pretty thin. You can't do a lot of aggressive work without getting tired real quick," said Diamond.

Luckily none of the firefighters were injured.

Even the Starbucks next door donated nearly 20 gallons of coffee to help keep them warm.

"The Red Cross was out there this morning, and we just saw a need. So we just did what we had to do to get those guys warmed up this morning," said Chris Deming of Starbucks.

But the morning warmed up to a lot of destruction, and now hotel owner Don Houseworth is meeting with contractors and looking at his options.

"We are going to demo everything we have to and build back as fast as possible," said Houseworth.

He says the hotel and the restaurants were insured.

He als says out of 150 rooms, about 124 of them are still okay for use, and the hotel will reopen just as soon as he can get the front desk area operable again.

While it hasn't been ruled officially, we are told the fire could have started in a furnace located in the attic above one of the restaurants.

Meanwhile, the Holiday Inn hotel has a total of 150 rooms.

About 50 of those were occupied and evacuated to other area hotels.

No guests or hotel employees were injured.

Stay with Region 8 News for the latest developments.

Story ideas or comments?  Email Will at wcarter@kait8.com.