Atlanta, GA Winecoff Hotel Fire, Dec 1946
FEW SUCCEED IN ESCAPING FROM INFERNO
Investigation Opens Into Worst U.S. Hotel Fire
ATLANTA, Ga., Dec 7, (U.P.) - A mass of flames shot through the 15-story Winecoff Hotel, today an inferno which killed 120 persons, and tonight an exhaustive investigation was begun to learn the cause of the holocaust, worst hotel fire in the nation's history.
In three hours of flaming hell, while fire raged unchecked, the hotel's 280 guests tried to escape. A few succeeded, some of them with miraculous tales of their experiences. But most of the men, women and children who jammed the 194 rooms for the weekend were either killed or injured.
Leap From Windows
Many of the injured were horribly burned or had multiple fractures caused by leaping from windows.
As flames shot skyward through the brick structure, guests awoke in a smoky fog. From windows and window ledges, aroused from their slumber and crazed by terror, they called for help, pleading to be rescued. But many of them fell or leaped to death, their nightclothes trailing ribbons of flames.
While the dead were still being counted, all employes [sic] of the hotel were called for exhaustive questioning by fire officials seeking to determine the cause.
Met Safety Standards
City Fire Marshal Harry Phillips said the Winecoff had been inspected during the past week and had met fire department regulations. Atlanta hotels are inspected once a month.
The National Hotel Guide listed the Winecoff as fireproof but Phillips said he did not consider any building in that category, only fire resistant. As far as firemen could find, there were no fire escapes.
An unidentified fireman believed the fire was caused by the explosion of some type of gas in the interior of the building. Officially, there was no explanation.
All Ambulances Called
Every ambulance within a 20-mile radius of the city was called to move the dead and injured soon after the fire started before dawn.
Taxicabs were pressed into service as hearses, and this time the meter hands were not pushed down.
Forty-nine youngsters, here for the Georgia state youth conference, were registered at the hotel. Their closing meeting had been planned for this morning and most of them retired early. Then the nightmare fire struck about 3:30 a.m.
The final meeting of the assembly was held on schedule, but it was turned into a memorial service for the one youth known to be dead and the 25 still listed as missing. Five others were in hospital beds, their bodies scarred by burns and broken by falls from the flaming building.
Call for Donors
Hospitals received emergency supplies of plasma to treat the injured, but even as nurses carried it into operating rooms, doctors sent out a call for whole blood - pints and quarts of it. Lines of donors began forming at the city's principal hospitals in response to radio appeals for blood.
The fire started between 3 and 4 a.m. at about the fourth floor of the Winecoff, and in a moment orange flames were billowing up the elevator shafts and stairways. Flames shot out from dozens of windows.
The fire was discovered by a negro elevator girl, Rosita, who ran to Night Manager Comer L. Rowan with word that she smelled smoke.
Rowan sent her away for the bellhops while he jumped for the telephone switchboard and began phoning the rooms.
Out Of Control
In the next few minutes, the first screams of the trapped sleepers began to echo through the halls and bodies began hurtling from the upper floors.
Firemen, ordered to answer all downtown calls with every piece of equipment, came with life nets, long ladders, and high pressure pumpers. They arrived within a minute or two of the alarm, but already the flames were raging out of control.