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Blaze destroys building, spreads to motel

Fire
Sep. 11, 2013 @ 12:23 AM

CHESAPEAKE, Ohio -- An early morning fire that started in an abandoned building quickly spread to a neighboring motel Tuesday, displacing 26 tenants, including two small children, according to motel and fire officials.

Dispatchers received word of the fire at 2:58 a.m. at the Travellers Motel. The 12-unit facility sits along Township Road 1039, off Lawrence County 1 and just west of Chesapeake. No injuries were reported.

To Donald McKeever, 39, and fiancée Amber Warner, 32, the motel was an efficiency apartment. The unemployed couple had been living there since December 2012 except for a month and a few days this past summer.

It left McKeever, of Point Pleasant, W.Va., without a home and no answer to a lingering question.

"Why us?" he said. "We barely skim by as it is. We find a cheap place that we can pay for, and then it's like that gets pulled out from underneath you."

Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Chief Ed Webb called the fire suspicious late Tuesday afternoon. He said the state Fire Marshal's Office labeled the cause as undetermined and the investigation as ongoing. Webb said the on-scene fire marshal is reviewing nearby surveillance footage.

Authorities urge anyone with information about the fire or anyone who noticed something suspicious Tuesday morning to call the state Fire Marshal's Office at 800-589-2728.

Motel owner Sunil Shah estimates nine of his 12 units received considerable smoke and water damage. Webb said flames from the neighboring fire spread throughout the motel's attic, but did not extend into the actual rooms below.

Shah purchased the Travellers Motel approximately four years ago. He had complained to county officials about the abandoned house, which sat just feet behind his motel. His concerns never produced action, and the property remained a dump.

Tuesday morning, Shah's fear that it would catch fire became a reality. The owner minimized his frustration in the hours that followed, instead expressing appreciation for the firefighters' response and thankfulness nobody was injured.

Some tenants credited Rudy Withrow, 48, and his friend with making their escape possible. They lived in a separate apartment building across from the abandoned house. Withrow said they saw the flames and started pounding on the motel doors.

Brian LeMaster, a self-described sound sleeper, eventually heard their pounding with no sound of a smoke detector. He stayed in Unit No. 12, and its bathroom was just feet from the burning abandoned home.

"I'm lucky to have gotten out," he said. "If it wasn't for that guy beating on the doors, I wouldn't have made it out of there."

Neither Withrow nor his friend heard smoke detectors as they alerted motel tenants, however Shah said each room was equipped with the necessary equipment. He added that it is tested once a week.

The American Red Cross was on site Tuesday providing assistance to those displaced by the fire. Volunteer fire departments from Proctorville, Rome Township and Fayette Township assisted in Tuesday's response.

Follow Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.

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