The long, hot day

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 14, 2005

Front desk clerk Tara Johnson couldn't even smell the smoke. She had no clue that the Grandview Inn and Suites was ablaze until a fellow employee rushed her out of the building.

"I had no idea until she came in," Johnson said. "She said that the building was on fire and she told me that I had to call 911."

Johnson then went room to room with the head of housekeeping, knocking on doors, and evacuating the approximately 50 guests staying at the motel.

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"That was our main concern, to make sure everybody was out," Johnson said.

Once the call went out fire crews arrived in droves, but for the first half-hour only 10 firefighters stood against the blaze.

Throughout the day a small fire that seemingly begun in the kitchen grew to envelop the dining area. Johnson's concern then turned to the

uncertain future.

"It's devastating. Those are our jobs going up in flames right there," Johnson said. "It's just sad, I've been here for two years, but most of the people have been here for 10 or 15 years. It's a horrible thing."

At some point the blaze had been contained as much as possible, yet it continued to spread. As a last resort, a backhoe was brought to demolish first the kitchen area, then the rest of the dining hall.

"Basically, to keep it from spreading to other parts of the motel we had to knock everything down," Chesapeake Fire Department Assistant Chief Ed Webb said. "Put it on the ground, throw water on it, save the rest of the structure."

As the backhoe tore through the structure like a child's hand through a sand castle,Johnson could only partially watch the carnage, looking from the corner of her eye as someone might sneak a look at an accident scene.

The bricks fell to the ground as the young girl's hand rose to her mouth in horror and tears formed behind her glasses.

Watching the landmark burn was difficult even for those who didn't work at the motel, including long-time South Point mayor Bill Gaskin.

"This really hurts," Gaskin said. "It's been here for awhile, it was the old Holiday Inn and everything else. It looks like the rooms are going to be alright. They'll just have to rebuild the dining area Š make it bigger and better, I reckon."

Brothers in flame

While the event was a tragedy for owners and locals, it was a triumph of cooperation from firefighters, who split the massive effort between 17 fire departments in total. Three of those had come from Boyd County to add their muscle.

Through the day, fresh, clean crews arrived, relieving the ashen, exhausted soldiers emerging from the smoke of the battle.

Coal Grove Fire Department Third Lieutenant James Rowe was one of those taking a break from the brutal fire, one unlike others he had come up against.

"It's a hell of a lot hotter," Rowe said with a tired laugh. "They've got it under control a lot more than when we've got there. We're going with everything we have, every truck we've got is up here."

"It was pretty intense," Webb said. "It was difficult to get to, because it was going up and down hallways, you normally have more room in a structure fire."

Webb also said a major hurdle was a lack of water, with crews having to bring it in from the South Point Boat Ramp.

The approximately 75 men and women fighting the fire were backed up by Sheriff's deputies, the Red Cross, and SEOEMS.

By noon, the blaze had been largely dispelled, and crews began to return home. Perry Fire Dept. Captain Jeff Joseph first gathered the firefighters to offer his thanks.

"Work-wise, this is the best I've ever seen from any of us," Joseph said. "Everybody here worked well together. In 22 years of fire service this is the best working together I've ever seen from county fire departments, and I'm proud of all of them."

He dismissed the men and women who had the furthest to travel first, while crews from Perry and South Point were settling in for an even longer day.

"Will we make it home for dinner?" a voice from the crowd jokingly asked.

"No," said Joseph with a laugh, "we may have to talk midnight snack."

By this morning, all the firefighters had gone home, while the remains of the dining hall continued to smolder.

Fire marshal investigators were finally able to enter the building, saying that a statement about the fire could be expected as early as this afternoon.