Fire devastates Comfort Inn, Perkins restaurant building

PLATTSBURGH The owners of the Comfort Inn and Suites and other businesses connected to the State Route 3 building are picking up the pieces after a devastating fire last Saturday. In an interview Monday, Terry M. Meron, who owns the building with business partner Jim Murray, said despite the damage to the building, the Comfort Inn will rebuild and salvage all sections of the building possible. We definitely plan to rebuild. We just dont know what were going to have to tear down versus what were going to be allowed to save, said Meron. Obviously, were going to really be leaning toward saving as much as possible. Meron said he was out of state when the fire broke out last Saturday afternoon, but took a flight back that day upon receiving the news. Based on information he received upon returning early Sunday morning, the fire is believed to have started in the hotels pool and sauna area, though the origin has yet to be confirmed by fire investigators. Meron said the space in which the fire is believed to have started is what likely made efforts to fight the fire more challenging. Thats a very interior space. It was a space that made it more difficult to get to, said Meron, who added connecting attics were over the pool and health club area. Basically, the fire just raged to the roof and it was because of it being so interior, got more of a start getting into the roof over the lobby, which connects to hotel rooms and above [Legends Sports Bar and Brew Pub]. And, that roof is a second story roof that covers some of Perkins [Restaurant and Bakery]. While the fire spread quickly, Meron said the majority of the 101,758-square-foot building which is assessed at $4,837,500 is not damaged. In fact, three of the four main hotel buildings which house 96 of the Comfort Inns 112 rooms were not damaged by fire, thanks to firewalls in place, he said. Its mainly the health club, the pool, and some second-story hotel rooms that are gone. Its not as big, percentage-wise, as its been portrayed, said Meron. The Comfort Inns Grand Ballroom, which was added on to the 20-year-old structure in 2005, sustained mainly smoke and water damage, said Meron. The ballrooms construction consisted of separate interior walls not attached to the exterior walls of the original building, he said, comparing it to a bank vault encased in concrete with a steel roof. If we cleaned up the floor in there from all the water that spewed in there, we could have a function except we wont have power here for a while, said Meron. Its totally intact. The upper ballroom has slightly more smoke and water damage, he said, but also fared well during the fire. Though the extent of the damage is less than previously believed, none of the businesses within the building will be back in operation until reconstruction in various degrees is conducted, he said. Its really too early to tell, Meron said of the extent of construction and repair that will be needed. When rebuilding does commence, said Meron, the building wont have the same wooden design as it did. The owners have already begun meeting with an architect to create a design that will be even more effective in preventing the spread of fire, in the event tragedy strikes again. The new design will likely incorporate a steel structure without attic space, he said. Were going to rebuild it so it can never happen again the way that it did, said Meron. It doesnt matter what the walls are built of, if you have a wood roof and the fire gets to that attic space, you can forget it. Thats a lesson learned here. When the fire broke out, it took employees and guests by surprise. As she stood watching flames shoot through the building that afternoon, Leah Howie, one of the Comfort Inns employees, recalled what had happened while she was working at the reception desk. We were standing at the front desk when all of a sudden people came running from the pool, said Howie. It was right above the steam room and sauna. It started smoking and we evacuated everybody out. They said it started smoking from the ceiling. As the fire began to move quickly through the hotel, Howie said she and her fellow employees focused on getting guests and others in the hotel to safety. Many of those who were in the hotel had to leave their belongings behind, including Howie, who left behind her purse. We had a birthday party going on so we had to make sure we evacuated them. Our manager and all our staff went around and got everyone out of their rooms, said Howie. Everyone is safe, thats all that matters. Amy Beth Collupy of Port Henry was staying in a first-floor room at the hotel with her boyfriend when she heard alarms sounding, warning guests of the fire. I thought it was a regular drill and all of a sudden he was like, We need to get out, Collupy said, pointing to her boyfriend as the two joined dozens of displaced guests. We just got out of the building and when we came out and there was fire over the lobby. Todd M. Castine, director of clinical services for the Clinton County Advocacy and Resource Center in Plattsburgh, was participating in a forum on autism being held at the hotel when the fire erupted. The forum was being held in the hotels popular Grand Ballroom and some of the hotels secondary meeting rooms when he heard the alarm. There was some question whether or not it was just a malfunction or something. After a few minutes everybody started to leave the building, recalled Castine. It just started to spread and very quickly, people were out. Within a matter of minutes you could see it was just a huge fire that was in the process. Despite the size of the fire, everyone inside the buildings was evacuated and all involved escaped unscathed, said R. Scott Ewing, deputy fire coordinator for the Clinton County Office of Emergency Services. Weve had no reports of any injuries and were very fortunate with that with this large of a structure incident, said Ewing. Were very fortunate that it happened in the daytime when a lot of people werent in the rooms people had pretty much checked out or had gone to events. The fire quickly spread despite the effort of nearly a dozen departments battling the blaze, Ewing added, including crews with aerial firefighting trucks from the City of Plattsburgh, District No. 3 and Keeseville departments. The buildings wooden structure was one of the biggest challenges in containing the fire, he said, adding it was one of the largest commercial fires in recent local history. We havent had a fire in a commercial building like this in a long time, Ewing said. The cause of the fire was still under investigation as the time this newspaper went to press Tuesday. Keep checking DenPubs.com for more updates.

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