The fire that prompted the evacuation of Le Meridien hotel in the Central Business District late Sunday afternoon started in the 24th-floor mechanical room and sent 10 firefighters to the hospital for smoke inhalation, according to officials.
Investigators haven’t ruled out the possibility that the fire started because of an electrical issue, but they were still working to determine an exact cause nearly a day after the blaze began.
Though the emergency at the hotel in the 300 block of Poydras Street was the second one in the city's historic core requiring a large response from the Fire Department in as many days, it stood apart because of the number of people who received medical attention as a result.
The New Orleans Fire Department spent more than three hours Sunday evening battling a four-alarm fire at Le Meridien, a hotel in the 300 block…
Besides the 10 firefighters who were taken to the hospital, paramedics checked out four more firefighters and seven civilians at the scene. Those 11 declined a trip to the hospital.
The 410-room Le Meridien was at about 95 percent capacity when it was evacuated; fires at high-rise buildings in the CBD that are almost completely packed are rare.
Hundreds of guests were not able to stay at the hotel Sunday night, and at least some of them appeared to still be working on new lodging arrangements Monday morning.
Hotel management couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. They were taking guests' names and phone numbers on Sunday as staffers tried to rebook them elsewhere.
According to officials, firefighters were notified about 3:57 p.m. that smoke was circulating through the hotel.
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The first unit arrived 10 minutes later and began working with hotel staff to get guests out of the building. Much of the hotel had been filled with smoke by then, with a street-level video on social media showing how a plume of smoke rose from the top of the hotel.
The building’s sprinklers helped more than 80 firefighters bring the blaze under control by 7:15 p.m. But the work was grueling. With power shut off to the building and its elevators, firefighters had to climb the stairs to the mechanical room at the top of the hotel to battle the blaze.
The 10 firefighters taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation weren’t critically hurt, according to officials, but their conditions weren’t available Monday.
Guests on Sunday evening milled around the hotel outside in obvious disbelief. One woman from London told WWL-TV she feared she would have to cut her vacation short.
"We were having a good time up till now ... (but) we have another week's holiday and have nothing to wear," she said. "We are going home, I think, to be honest. All our clothes will be smoke-damaged."
Another woman told WWL-TV that the hotel's stairways were hazy and reeked of smoke as she and her companions descended 22 stories on foot.
Fire Department officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the 10-minute response time to the hotel.
The New Orleans Fire Department spent more than three hours Sunday extinguishing a fire at Le Meridien, a hotel in the Central Business District.
But firefighters’ union president Aaron Mischler said longer than ideal response times have become more common as the department’s manpower has been reduced over the last eight years due to attrition and budget cuts.
Mischler also said first responders, including firefighters, were spread thin after parts of the city flooded during storms early Sunday, with some being used to barricade inundated underpasses. Nonetheless, the Fire Department said it dispatched firefighters to Le Meridien within a minute of getting the 911 call reporting smoke there.
On Monday morning, an Entergy crew repaired an underground cable that was sending smoke out of a manhole at Natchez and Tchoupitoulas streets, which is very near Le Meridien. Entergy spokeswoman Charlotte Cavell said the two situations were not related.
Sunday’s fire came a little more than a day after a blaze in the French Quarter damaged the Oceana Grill restaurant and the Copper Monkey Bar & Grill building in the 700 block of Conti Street. While a cause for that blaze hasn’t been determined, it apparently started in the Oceana’s kitchen. Two people were treated for smoke inhalation.