Trays of cookies were on their way to the Lewiston police and fire departments Monday evening, compliments of a woman who said officers saved her life — and those of about 100 other people, including children — in a fire at the Super 8 by Wyndham in North Lewiston late Sunday night.
“They put themselves in harm’s way,” said Tina Lee, a road construction worker who said she has spent much of the last year and a half at the hotel while working on a road crew on the Winchester hill.
“I saw them putting little kids out a window,” Lee said, her voice choking with emotion. “Everybody was scared, but the fire department was very informative and got everybody out. They saved my life.”
Lee deliver the treats to the firefighters and policemen who rescued them after she got off work Monday.
Lewiston Fire Chief Travis Myklebust said firefighters were able to view a video that showed a cigarette that was improperly discarded and is blamed for igniting the flames.
The cigarette might have been put into a garbage can, but apparently lit some refuse that smoldered for about an hour and a half before catching fire, spreading up the side of the building and into the attic, Myklebust said.
Firefighters responded to the scene at about 10:30 p.m. Sunday, and by that time, flames had spread on the north exterior of the building. The chief said three rooms had serious fire damage, but because the building was constructed with what is called a “smoke curtain” designed to limit fire movement, the blaze was limited to a specific zone. Myklebust said firefighters had to cut a 4-foot-by-4-foot hole in the attic to release some of the smoke contained by the smoke curtain.
Myklebust said there were 39 rooms in the hotel and an estimated 100 guests who were evacuated.
Lee said she was awakened at about 10:30 p.m. by the desk clerk running up and down the hallway, pounding on doors and screaming for people to get out.
“Of course, I thought it was a dream, so I went back in and laid down,” Lee said. “And the next thing I know, everybody’s screaming. So I get up and saw the firemen. They were putting babies through windows and it was just amazing what they did.”
Lee said she raced outside with no shoes on and nothing but a T-shirt covering her. One fireman — she assumed it was Myklebust — came around to all the people standing outside to make sure everyone was OK.
She watched as the firefighters continued to go back into the hotel, even after everyone had been removed, to make sure no one was overlooked.
After about two hours, the guests were allowed to return to their rooms and retrieve their belongings. Lee said none of her possessions were damaged.
Then the guests were escorted by the police to the First Church of the Nazarene on Eighth Street, where they were greeted with hot drinks, warm blankets and makeshift beds on the church pews. The police chaplain is a member of that church and helped coordinate the refuge, Myklebust said.
“That was outstanding for a lot of people,” he said. “There are no available rooms in the valley. The mill is on a two-week shutdown, and all the contractors are (staying in hotels) and there are literally no rooms in the valley.”
Lee, originally from Spokane, said she had a bad cough Monday and a burning throat.
“But that’s nothing compared to what it could have been,” she said. “I’ve got six grandbabies at home so when something like this happens, that’s a game changer. We could have died if the alarm didn’t go off.”
Hedberg may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 983-2326.