A car hit a gas meter and triggered an explosion that caused part of the Fairfield Inn in Beaumont Centre to collapse Sunday night.
Parts of three floors sustained heavy damage.
Although damage to the building was severe, there were no serious injuries, and hotel guests and others on the scene credited a hotel manager who knocked on doors to evacuate the building before the explosion. Two firefighters were taken to the hospital as a precaution after the explosion. Their injuries were not described as serious. An elderly man also reportedly had minor injuries.
"We are just lucky to be alive," said Fairfield Inn guest Bob Hartmann of Chesterton, Ind,
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Hartmann still had his card key in his pocket as he stood across the parking lot watching the tattered curtains blow in the space where his room used to be. Hartmann, who came to Lexington with his wife, Margo, said the couple had been out to dinner with their daughter when the explosion occurred. They saw the still-smoking ruins from the street as they returned. They lost all of the belongings they had left in the hotel.
The fire department got a call of a private alarm at the Fairfield Inn about 6:15 p.m. Sunday and arrived to find the gas leaking. About 10 minutes later, there was an explosion, said Battalion Chief Joe Best. Several cars were damaged and were under rubble from the building Sunday night.
According to police, a car in the parking lot apparently lurched forward, hitting an above-ground gas meter that leads to the Fairfield Inn. Police said an older man was driving the car. He thought he hit the brake, but he hit the gas. It was an accident, officers said.
Columbia Gas was at the scene with police and firefighters late Sunday. Gas and electricity to the building were cut off.
Debbie Tyler, assistant general manager of the Fairfield Inn, said she raced through halls knocking on doors to get guests out while the other hotel employee on duty stayed at the front desk and told guests who called to evacuate. Tyler said firefighters arrived quickly and helped with the evacuation.
The hotel, with 60 rooms, was 70 percent occupied, with many of the guests in town for the September yearling sale at Keeneland, which starts Monday.
Tyler said someone came into the lobby and told hotel employees that a car had hit the side of the building. She said a piercing alarm began going off.
"We could smell it. It was really strong," she said, referring to the odor of gas. Tyler said she has been in the hotel business for 30 years and knew the alarm needed to be taken seriously. So she began knocking on doors. "I had to pull some people out of the room," she said. "People were in the shower.
"I feel very lucky that everyone got out. We're blessed; we're truly blessed."
Stacy Williams, the other employee at the hotel with Tyler, said "Debbie was just amazing. If she hadn't been here, I would've died in there."
Bill Dahlsten of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who was staying across the street at the Courtyard by Marriott, said that "all of a sudden there was a muffled explosion ... and I felt the building shake." He said the blast "blew glass almost clear into the street."
He and his wife, who were in Lexington for the weekend to visit his brother, tried to get a room at the Fairfield when they planned their trip, but it was booked, Dahlsten said, adding, "I guess that was a blessing."
Destiny Eversole, a Waffle House waitress, said the explosion shook the nearby restaurant."People were running one way and firefighters the other way."
Fairfield Inn guest Cory King said he had been staying there for a week during job training. King, who is from West Virginia, had just pulled into the parking lot when he saw a crowd running.
"I didn't know what to do," King said. "I just started running."
Thankfully, he said, he was not hurt and his car was not damaged. King has only the clothes he was wearing and his phone.
"I'm glad I was not off work, but I feel like my house burned down," he said. "This is all I have."
All of the guests staying at the Fairfield Inn were relocated to nearby hotels Sunday night.
Mary Meehan: (85) 231-3261. Blog: Bluegrassmom.com. Twitter: BGmoms.