NEWPORT – The hard knock on the door of Room 216 jolted Emily Burke awake early Friday.
Who could possibly be here so early, she remembered thinking. It was 5:45 a.m.
She opened the door, and "smoke filled the room."
Burke had been staying at the City Center Motel with her boyfriend and 9-year-old daughter Isabella Esparza when the motel owner roused them awake. "There was no alarm," she said. By the time firefighters arrived minutes later, the two-story building at the south end of town on Highway 101 was fully engulfed. By the end of the day, four bodies would be pulled from the rubble.
"I always thought I had a good head on my shoulders" and would know what to do in a disaster, she said. "I didn't know anything. Your brain goes clear, and you grab your kids."
The first two victims, a male and female, "were found on the ground floor near room 104," Lt. Jason Malloy, a Newport police spokesman, said Saturday. About four hours later, "farther back into the motel on ground level, we found the other two. They were buried under quite a bit of rubble."
Names are being withheld pending notification of family, though Malloy said all four are believed to be tourists. The fire also reportedly sent four people to the hospital and displaced upward of 50 others.
The news on the location of the first two bodies was chilling for Burke.
"We were originally going to be in Room 105, but at the last minute (the owner) called us back and said the room was not available for two nights and sent us to 216 instead."
The cause and origin of the fire have not been determined, Malloy said. But Burke said she heard from others at the scene that it was started on the second floor by a smoldering cigarette. "The woman went to get the neighbor to help put out the fire and he couldn't. So he went and got the owner who came with a fire extinguisher and he couldn't do it. That's when he started banging on doors."
Burke said the fire was coming down the hallway when she ran out. "There were two exits. Ninety-percent of the people had to go out our exit. Only eight to 10 rooms could use the other exit because the fire was burning between the exit and the other rooms."
Outside, as the ambulances and fire trucks were pulling up, she saw a woman covered in black. "I don't know if she was burned or if it was soot. She was just covered in black. Even her eyeballs."
People were in shock, she said, and it appeared that most people ran out with only what they had on. "There were elderly people in nothing but boxer shorts."
The owner of the motel put one family up in another motel Friday night. Burke said the owner of the Porter's Shell Station gave them food and allowed them use their phone.
On Saturday, Burke waited with her daughter and boyfriend in a parking lot across from the charred ruins of the motel for someone who could help them get home. Where that help would come from, she had no idea.
The Red Cross would not assist them because they live in Eugene and have a home to go, Burke said. Monique Dugaw, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Cascades Region, said the group was of the understanding that Burke's immediate needs had been met.
Though it was true that she had a home, Burke said, she had no money, gas or way to get there. She'd left behind her keys and money, and her older model Dodge Neon sustained significant fire damage.
"We are trying to be humble," she said. "We don't want to be the people with their hands out. We just need enough money for gas, maybe some food. I'm upset with the owner. He doesn't want to give us insurance information. But I am also very grateful he got us out."
In the end, it was Lincoln County Commissioner and advocate for the homeless Bill Hall who came through, offering the trio cash from his own pocket.
"Thank you so much," Burke said. "The town of Newport has been great. The Newport Police Department was amazing; the firefighters were amazing."
— Lori Tobias
Special to The Oregonian/OregonLive
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.
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