During an evening thunderstorm on Friday, Sept. 7, a lightning strike started a fire at a local hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. According to the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, the fire displaced 50 guests, but no injuries were reported as a result of the blaze.
The hotel that was at the receiving end of the unlucky bolt of lightning was the Fairfield Inn and Suites By Marriott, located on Route 1. A manager of the hotel made the call to 911 when he heard the lightning strike. The hotel lost power after the lightning hit, which activated the fire and smoke alarms.
When firefighters arrived, there was no smoke or fire visible from the outside. They encountered smoke once they made it to a hallway on the third floor of the building, which was its top floor. The teams of firefighters were able to track down the actual fire to a mechanical room on the roof. It had spread only to the attics and some of the walls between rooms on the third floor.
According to the fire department, the hotel’s fire sprinkler system was the savior in containing the two-alarm inferno and assisting guests in a safe evacuation. There were 25 rooms occupied at the time of the fire, but the sprinklers near the location of the fire were able to effectively limit its spread.
While everyone was able to exit the building safely, the hotel sustained about $65,000 in damages. Across the country each year, hotel and motel fires result in $76 million in property loss. As buildings classified as mixed-use properties, with their sleeping rooms, restaurants, stores, meeting spaces, and more, hotels are prime spots for fires to spread if left unchecked by sprinklers.
According to data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System and the NFPA Fire Experience Survey gathered between 2009 and 2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 3,520 structure fires in hotels and motels each year, making up about 1% of all structure fires. The data also shows that cooking equipment accounts for half of all fires in hotels and motels, making the lightning strike at the Alexandria hotel an anomaly of Mother Nature.