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Vacant Hotel Fire Raises Questions About City's Abandoned Buildings

For the third time in three weeks Thursday night, the Tallahassee Fire Department responded to a call of a structure fire at an abandoned hotel near Interstate 10. TFD Spokesman Mike Bellamy described multiple rooms being on fire and falling apart. And as of midday Friday, fire crews were still trying to quell the flames. Power has long since been cut off to the building, leading investigators to suspect arson. But Bellamy said although the investigation is ongoing, he doesn’t believe someone was trying to damage the hotel. Rather, he believes whoever set the blaze was likely trying to stay warm.

“Basically all the furniture is still inside every one of these rooms and we’ve had a lot of cold weather recently. So, based on some of the graffiti and the doors being forced open, this has probably become some sort of a safe haven for vagrants,” Bellamy theorized in a phone interview Friday.

Tallahassee’s homeless population has had an extra hard time finding lodging after the closing of one shelter and the transitioning of another. City spokesman Michelle Bono said it’s impossible for police to patrol every vacant building in the area, so they rely on citizens to be their eyes and ears.

“We really can’t see every square mile of the city. So, if you have a concern that there may be a building that’s being inappropriately used by vagrants then let us know because we will work with that property owner to be sure that it gets secured because that is not a safe condition,” Bono pointed out.

The State Fire Marshall’s office has taken control of the investigation and Bono says police will ramp up patrols in the hotel’s vicinity until the property owner decides whether to demolish or renovate the ailing structure.