GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - Whey they arrived, they had to talk
people out of jumping from windows. And the smoke was so thick they
couldn't see more than a foot or two in front of them.
Several days after an early Sunday morning fire killed six
people at a Comfort Inn in Greenville, firefighters and sheriff's
deputies are talking about the scramble to save lives.
The investigation into the early Sunday morning blaze continues.
Authorities expect to get lab results of evidence from the fire
back soon and may be ready to determine the cause of the fire
Thursday, Greenville County Sheriff's Lt. Shea Smith said.
Investigators also are still looking for a man seen at a
convenience store a block away from the motel at the time of the
fire. He is considered a witness, Shea said.
The fire also injured 12 others. Five of those suffered serious
smoke inhalation and were taken to a burn unit in Augusta, Ga.,
said spokeswoman Beth Frits.
Two patients were released from the burn center Tuesday, while
the other three were upgraded from critical to serious condition
Wednesday. Those three patients remain on a ventilator and may
remain in the hospital for weeks or months, Frits said.
Greenville County Sheriff's deputies made it to the fire first,
just a few minutes after the initial 911 call around 4:30 a.m.
Sunday. Firefighters followed shortly after, authorities said.
What the rescuers found was chaos. Smoke was so thick, some
disoriented guests found themselves moving toward where the fire
was the most intense and falling all over each other as they groped
their way down the stairs. One man jumped from a third flood window
despite being just a few steps from a stairwell.
The deputies arrived first and immediately started dashing
through the halls, beating on doors to try to get guests up, the
officers said Wednesday at a news conference in Greenville.
"We just pounded on it and waited to see if we could hear
anybody in there," sheriff's Sgt. Doug Bortone said. "And if we
didn't hear anybody we just went on to the next one."
The officers said when they opened the door to the third flood,
smoke poured out and the rush of air into the fire slammed the door
back shut.
The deputies had to wait for firefighters with their breathing
equipment before anyone could get to the third floor.
When Wade Hampton Fire Lt. Mike Vaughn got off the truck, he
immediately saw two women getting ready to jump from windows and
told them to wait until firefighters could get the truck's ladder
up to them, he told WSPA-TV in Spartanburg.
Meanwhile, other firefighters went inside and battled smoke so
thick visibility was no than a foot on the third floor where the
fire started.
"That was a hot place to be," firefighter Martin Williams told
the television station. "And you know, you pretty much know, if
somebody were in there, they weren't going to make it."
Four bodies, including a toddler, were found in the hallway
trying to escape. Two other bodies were found in different rooms,
authorities have said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)