Blaze delays hotel's opening

The Best Western in Tampa is still under construction.

Published June 30, 2007

TAMPA -- Fire ripped through a Best Western under construction Friday, torching the roof and postponing indefinitely the hotel's opening day.

Firefighters arrived at the hotel, on W Waters Avenue west of Dale Mabry Highway, just before 11 a.m. Although they contained the fire about 1 p.m., the building was still smoldering well into the early evening.

Hillsborough fire spokesman Ray Yeakley said crews needed a crane to tear off the roof before they could be sure all they got all the hot spots.

Because the hotel was still under construction, not all the windows had been installed, creating a breeze inside the building that intensified the blaze and sent it racing down the length of the roof. The smoke pouring off the Best Western's roof was visible as far away as Hillsborough Avenue and Dale Mabry Highway, nearly 2 miles away.

The fire was initially contained to the southeast portion of the fourth floor and roof, and firefighters went inside. But 15 minutes later, conditions had deteriorated so much that they had to retreat.

Two firefighters sustained minor injuries after falling down some stairs during the evacuation and were treated on the scene. No other injuries were reported.

Construction workers had been in the building, but all were able to escape without harm when the fire started.

The Public Storage at 8230 North Dale Mabry Ave., next door to the fire, likely suffered interior smoke damage, said Mike Clayton of ServiceMaster Clean, a disaster restoration service company at the scene of the fire. Clayton said the Public Storage's air conditioner probably sucked in some of the black smoke being blown toward it by the wind.

Raj Patel, the brother of the owner, Jay Patel, said the hotel was almost ready for opening this month.

Yeakley said, though, that there were still some walls without sheetrock and sections of ceiling without tiles in place. And the sprinkler system, while already installed, had not yet been turned on.

Yeakley was unsure of how it started or the extent of the damages Friday, with firefighters still working at the scene.