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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 16th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 32

County agencies and nonprofits help victims of the Town Center Hotel fire

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM


ASSESSING THE DAMAGE
The cause of the fire on Oct. 12 at the Town Center Hotel in Santa Maria (pictured here on Oct. 15) is suspected to be arson. Close to 50 of the hotel’s residents are now living at the Minami Center, but public safety officials are looking for more housing options.
PHOTO BY JOE PAYNE

Update: Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced on Oct. 15 that charges have been filed against Amos Andrews, the suspect arrested in connection with the Town Center Hotel fire. The felony complaint alleges arson of an inhabited building with the use of an accelerant as well as residential burglary. He’s also been charged with two other counts of arson for setting fires in two dumpsters near the Town Center Hotel. Andrews was scheduled for arraignment on Oct. 16.

A recent fire displaced more than 100 Santa Maria residents on Oct. 12. Almost 50 of them—all of whom lived at the Town Center Hotel—were relocated to a temporary shelter at the Minami Center, but city officials and the residents have a limited amount of time to get future housing plans in order.

“They have to be out of Minami by Saturday [Oct. 19], so the question is where do they go next, and that’s unanswered,” Santa Maria Fire Chief Dan Orr said. “In the meantime, we’re trying to work with the [hotel] owner to get the building split into two.”

The hotel is more of a residential apartment building than an actual hotel and has been for years. Orr said one side of the building was relatively undamaged by the blaze, while the other side was severely affected. Initial reports carry estimates of approximately $1 million in damages to the structure at 215 N. Broadway.

“The whole hotel is shut down right now,” Orr said, “because we had to turn off power and gas.”

It will take some work to get the electricity and gas lines separated and turned on for only a portion of the building. Orr said the fire department is going to work with the owner to see what can be done to get residents back into their homes.

Fire crews were dispatched to the hotel around 2:30 a.m. the morning of Oct. 12. According to a press release, police officers were already on scene helping residents evacuate, until the officers were forced out by smoke.

Crews used a ladder truck to help people escape from the second floor roof. The press release revealed that occupants were hanging out of their windows on the south side of the hotel because of heavy smoke. Workers also used ladders to rescue people from some third-floor windows. Seven people were transported to local hospitals, but none of them suffered serious injuries.

Santa Maria Police Sgt. Dan Cohen said the fire was “clearly not an accident,” and it’s considered to be arson.

Although police arrested 57-year-old Santa Maria resident Amos Andrews in connection with the fire on Oct. 13, the Santa Barbara County Arson Task Force and the Santa Maria Police Department are still investigating.

Chief Orr said a blaze of this size is unusual for Santa Maria, especially considering the number of people it affected.

“To displace 100 folks, that’s a big deal, especially with this fragile of a population,” Orr said. “So we’re trying hard to keep them as viable as possible.”

Orr added that most of the Town Center Hotel residents are people who are trying to get back on their feet and who could take a such a hit pretty hard. Santa Barbara County Health Services and Social Services, the Good Samaritan Shelter, Red Cross, and the Salvation Army are doing what they can to help out.

Good Samaritan has already raised $10,000 to help the residents. Orr said anyone interested in helping can contact the Good Samaritan Shelter in Santa Maria by visiting goodsamshelter.net.

Many of the people staying at the Minami Center are still wearing the pajamas they left the Town Center Hotel in that Saturday morning.

“They woke up and we pushed them out the door,” Orr said. “They basically have lost everything, and they didn’t have that much to begin with.”