FOUR CORNERS – A devastating fire at a hotel on West U.S. 192 left 150 residents without a home, shut down parts of the busy highway for the morning commute, and injured several people, including two firefighters.
The fire destroyed the Vacation Lodge Maingate at 7514 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway (West U.S. 192) in Four Corners, said Niki Whisler, Osceola County’s public safety information officer.
“It’s a total loss,” she said.
It was also, she said, probably one of the worst fires in Osceola County in years.
“I would say so, yes,” Whisler said. “It’s probably the worst in recent memory that I can think of.”
The four alarm fire caused the roof of the lodge to collapse. The hotel is just a mile from Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. The property had 430 rooms, and about 150 people were staying there. The hotel is generally not marketed to tourists but to long-term residents who are unable to afford an apartment or home.
It was an enormously difficult blaze at control, Whisler said.
“It started last night about 10:30,” she said. “It was fully involved when we arrived on the scene.”
Crews from neighboring counties were called in to assist fighting the blaze, she said.
“We had the Reedy Creek Fire Department, and firefighters from Orange County, Polk County, Lake County and Orlando assisting,” she said on Monday morning. “It continues to burn. We don’t have it out yet.”
Eight people were injured, she said, including two Osceola County firefighters.
“All the injuries were minor,” Whisler said. “Everybody was transported to Celebration Hospital. The firefighters were treated and released, and the ones who lived in the hotel that were injured were treated and released as well.”
Since the people staying at the hotel had been living there, the fire left all of them homeless, Whisler said.
“There were about 150 people who went to a temproary shelter at Celebration High School,” she said.
The American Red Cross was called to the scene and is working with the shelter to find permanent places to send the people who had been living at the lodge.
“It’s an extended stay hotel, and what that translates into is it was home to a lot of people,” said Laureen Martinez, spokesperson for the Red Cross’ Mid-Florida office. “From our standpoint, we kind of help them get into another home. Whether it’s another extended stay hotel, that’s something we have to explore. We will find a solution for them.”
Martinez said the shelter was set up in the high school’s gymnasium.
“We have the shelter open indefinitely, so people are obviously welcome to stay there,” she said. “We are feeding them there, and we’re getting ready to have lunch now. We’re taking care of their immediate needs. We also have a nurse at the shelter in case anyone needs medical assistance, and we have volunteers who are basically mental health professionals who can talk people through this process.”
The Red Cross is also working to “get an estimation of what their needs are so we can more forward in getting them the help they need,” she said.
Hector Lizasuain, Osceola County’s West 192 coordinator, said the county government is also working to assist the families.
“Right now, as a community, we’re working together,” he said. “The Red Cross has taken the lead in temporarily placing them, and we have reached out to the Red Cross and all our local partners in the community to set up our support network for that group so we can find out exactly where they will end up. Then we will be able to assist them.”
The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined, Whisler said.
“They don’t know yet,” she said. “The fire marshall is still on the scene.”
Martinez said she doesn’t recall a blaze in Central Florida leaving this many people homeless.
“We’ve had large scale apartment fires, but this is big, definitely,” she said. “Even though we go to at least one house fire a day in Central Florida, this is fortunately not something we see every day.”
The blaze brought forth so much smoke that it could be seen from downtown Orlando. As a precaution, Florida Highway Patrol shut down U.S. 192 at Reedy Creek Boulevard, both eastbound and westbound, as firefighters continued battling the blaze. Traffic was diverted during the busy morning rush to the Osceola Parkway.
The roadway was expected to be closed for most of the morning.
Osceola County has been under a burn ban for the past few months because of the extremely dry weather this past spring. The county’s major concern has been the risk of wildfires, since Osceola Clounty is 80 percent rural and just 20 percent urban. But Whisler said this hotel fire did not appear to cause a risk of the blaze spreading to nearby rural areas.
“Probably not,” she said. “This is a structure fire, which of course is different from a brush fire, so the burn ban did not play into this.”
Polk and Lake counties also have burn bans in effect, which include bans on fireworks this upcoming holiday weekend, except for professional fireworks shows at locations like downtown Celebration, Lake Eva Park in Haines City, and the St. Cloud Lakefront.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.