GASTONIA, N.C. — The Gastonia Fire Department does not believe anyone was injured after a two-alarm fire destroyed a vacant motel.
The Value Lodge has been a haven for homeless people, but neighbors say it was a nuisance and an eyesore.
The fire started around 8 p.m. at the Value Lodge, which is next to the Quality Inn off Interstate 85 on Cox Road. More than 60 firefighters responded.
The motel has not been functional in more than a decade and it lacks heat and water. Firefighters say it has attracted homeless people. Investigators believe someone inside the motel started the fire that spread and destroyed the structure.
“It’s a very sad situation all over the country, not just in Gastonia,” Chief Phil Welch said.
A similar fire with the same circumstances happened last year at the motel. Fire Marshal Chris Stowe said there will be conversations about whether demolition should be ordered for the property. He says it is extremely dangerous for people to squat in it.
“It’s a real sad situation with folks who don’t have anywhere to live. So people go into survival mode and unfortunately, that’s what appears to be the case here,” he said.
Gastonia’s Gastonia’s Homeless Coordinator Gayle Mahl watched Tuesday as firefighters spent hours sifting through the rubble. She hoped she wouldn’t see the worst case scenario.
“Hopefully not the remains of an individual,” Mahl said.
Mahl said as of last week, at least four people were living off and on at the Value Lodge. Firefighters said some bunked in second-story rooms, with no stairs to get up there.
Fortunately, anyone who was there made it out of the fire. But officials know people with no options for shelter could come back.
“It’s not safe,” Mahl said.
‘It should have been demolished’
IHOP employee Patrick Norman witnessed the fire. He said he heard someone calling out for help.
“I heard him screaming for help,” he said. “‘Help me please. Help me. Somebody help me please.’”
Norman said he hopes the motel will be demolished. He left work early after witnessing the incident.
“I am supposed to be on the clock until 10 o’clock,” he said. “I told them now I’m clocking out. Y’all wasn’t outside to witness what I heard.”
On Tuesday, city crews knocked down the floors and took down all of the recently burned section. The fire chief said they don’t own the building and can’t tear it down, though they thought the current owner had a plan to demolish it.
That owner was out of town and out of reach on Tuesday.
Don Thrower is co-owner of a business across the street.
“It should have been gone a long time ago,” he said. “It should have been demolished.”
Others told Channel 9′s Ken Lemon panhandlers in the area were aggressive. Thrower said the building is an eyesore.
Firefighters can’t say how Monday’s fire started. People nearby worry people if people return for shelter, there may be another fire.
This is a developing story. Check back with wsoctv.com for updates.
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