More than 50 people watched a portion of Pasco's two-story Loyalty Inn burn Monday afternoon as firefighters worked to extinguish a stubborn and suspicious blaze.
Crews from Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties attacked the flames from above by using ladder pipes that spray water at 1,000 gallons per minute on the motel at 1800 W. Lewis St.
The fire appeared to start at about 1:20 p.m.in a fenced-off area against the front of the motel,said Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear.
Pasco police officers placed an older man in handcuffs as firefighters were fighting the blaze.
Witnesses told police they saw James Grant start the fire. Grant was ar-rested by police and booked into the Franklin County jail in connection with reckless burning, officials said.
Grant apparently told police that he was cleaning the smoking area by setting some weeds on fire and that the fire then got out of control.
No one was injured, Gear said. The exact extent of the damage was not yet known, said Gear, who added that firefighters would be on the scene through Monday night.
The fire was a tough one to extinguish, Gear said. About 75 firefighters from Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla county agencies helped with the fire.
Part of the challenge was that a peaked roof had been built on top of the older, flat roof, so firefighters were having difficulty cutting trenches in the roof, Gear said. Firefighters went through four saws before they abandoned the roof as it got too hot.
And the fire was spreading between the two roofs, Gear said.
The warm day, the length of the building and the location where the fire started also made it difficult to contain, he said.
"This is like fighting two building fires at the same time -- one from each side," Gear said.
Firefighters were successful in keeping the blaze from spreading to the rest of the motel, Gear said. The motel's residents might be able to occupy the west side of the building, depending on electricity, he said.
Charred bushes and a blackened bicycle marked where Joyanna S. Lowery and her husband Christopher Lowery, of Kennewick, saw a fire as they were driving on West Lewis Street heading to a home improvement store.
She said she turned around in the middle of the street and hurried into the motel's office, where the couple reported the fire to motel staff, who called the fire department.
Juan Ku of Pasco was cleaning his taco truck, Baby Ku, in the parking lot of the motel when he heard someone shout "Fire! Fire!"
Ku said he rushed over with fire extinguishers, discharging three, before the heat of the flames prompted him to retreat. The fire spread quickly, he said.
Although the fire started in an area of the two-block-long motel that is being renovated, occupants throughout the motel were evacuated.
Luis Maraz, who has been living at the motel for about two months, said someone from the motel came and knocked on his door to inform him and others to evacuate.
When he came out, Maraz said, he could see flames and smoke. Firefighters already were trying to control the blaze, said Maraz, who was staying in Pasco while he cuts asparagus.
The 67,400-square-foot building owned by Sohal Development of Pasco is valued at about $808,700. The motel was built in 1966, and the owner had received a building permit Feb. 10 to repair water damage in the building, including insulation and drywall work. The planned work was valued at $243,500, according to the Franklin County Assessor's website.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org