At the Lake: Motel fire called ‘very suspicious’
Fire investigators on Sunday continued to look for the cause of an early-morning blaze that destroyed most of Chateau Inn & Suites at Park and Manzanita avenues.
Investigators deemed the fire “very suspicious” and said Sunday night that arson had not been ruled out, according to South Lake Tahoe Fire Marshal Ray Zachau.
The fire, which was reported around 3 a.m., took four hours for firefighters from the South Lake Tahoe, Lake Valley and Tahoe Douglas fire departments to contain. No major injuries or deaths had been reported as of Sunday afternoon. At least two minor injuries were reported.
“There were fortunately no casualties and no firefighter injuries,” said Brad Piazzo, South Lake Tahoe Fire Department division chief.
“The concern was that the building around it was catching fire, on the west side,” Piazzo said.
The fire destroyed all three levels of the main building, Piazzo said. The main building contained the inn’s rooms. Six vehicles belonging to residents that were parked in front of the building were destroyed, and two others were damaged.
Tonya Blosser, a motel guest who was visiting South Lake Tahoe from out of town, stayed at the inn with friends Saturday night. She and her friend were sleeping when the fire occurred.
“I heard people screaming and got out,” Blosser said. “My hair and arm were burnt.”
Alan Rutherford had been staying at the motel for more than a month. He also was asleep at the time of the fire.
“Some kind of loud banging woke me up,” he said. “I pulled open the drapes and saw flames outside.”
Rutherford grabbed a bag and his shoes and fled the building, accidentally leaving his wallet and keys inside the room. He hoped to be able to get into his car via a locksmith Sunday afternoon. His truck sustained some damage but still was usable.
“The South Lake Tahoe Fire Department hit my truck with water,” he said. “The truck is intact, and I thank them for that.”
The American Red Cross Sacramento Sierra Chapter responded, and South Lake Tahoe Red Cross volunteers handed out lunch and doughnuts to the victims in addition to toiletry kits and teddy bears.
“We have a total of 40 persons impacted by this disaster,” said John Hellman, Tahoe-area preparedness and response manager for the Red Cross. “We’re matching our assistance with the needs of the clients.”
Although the motel is near the site where construction of a new convention center is under way, City Manager David Jinkens said the property had not been involved in eminent domain proceedings.