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Fire Engulfs Howard Johnson Motel, Killing Three

January 6, 1996

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Guests took refuge in bathtubs and frantically dialed 911 from their rooms as flames engulfed a Howard Johnson motel early Saturday, killing three people.

Firefighters raced from room to room of the motel in Bowling Green in southern Kentucky, carrying guests out on their shoulders and going back for more.

``Because the fire was so extensive when we got here, our initial efforts were towards the people that were inside the building,″ said Oscar Cherry, assistant fire chief in Bowling Green. ``When we got here, we had one come out through the plate glass window himself.″

The fire was first reported at 1:17 a.m. in the two-story motel, officials said. The heat and smoke trapped as many as 50 of the 75 guests in their rooms, which faced into a central lobby and swimming pool area. Officials said the fire apparently started somewhere in the middle of the motel.

``The facility was engulfed in flames when the fire department arrived,″ police Sgt. Bill Key said. The hotel was gutted by the fire.

``We had numerous people calling fire dispatch from their rooms, and dispatch would relay that information to us as to what rooms we had several people in,″ Cherry said at a news conference. ``We just basically had to hit every room anyway.″

``It could have been worse if it hadn’t been for the men going in the rooms and bringing people out,″ Bowling Green Fire Capt. Walter Jordan said. ``It saved many lives because of their efforts.″

Authorities didn’t expect to find any more bodies, even though they hadn’t yet cleared one area of debris. ``We don’t think there’s going to be anybody there,″ said fire Capt. Paul Stephens.

Some guests said they had taken refuge in their bathtubs.

One guest, Ray Miller, said he tried to alert others.

``I went up, I knocked on the doors and everything, but I couldn’t get them out because the smoke was too bad,″ he said.

The cause of the two-alarm fire was still under investigation.

Officials said the motel was equipped with a sprinkler system in hallways but not in guest rooms, and with smoke alarms. Both appeared to have functioned properly, they said.

Authorities said two men and a woman _ all guests _ died in the fire.

One man and the woman were found in a room with three children, Warren County Deputy Coroner Dwayne Lawrence said. He said rescuers tried unsuccessfully to revive the two adults.

``The three children were OK,″ Lawrence said. They were described as a 15-year-old boy and 10-year-old twins. Lawrence said they were taken to a hospital to wait for relatives to pick them up.

Police identified the dead couple as Claire Hallinan, 46, and her husband, Bernard Goldbroch, 47, of Evanston, Ill.

The third victim had not been identified.

Eleven people were admitted at the Medical Center in Bowling Green, with one in critical condition, one in serious condition and nine in stable condition, said spokeswoman Doris Thomas. Four other people were treated there and released.

One patient was in critical condition at Greenview Regional Medical Center, spokeswoman Holly Fowler said.

Bowling Green is about 100 miles south of Louisville and about 65 miles north of Nashville, Tenn.

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