Cause of Commerce motel fire under investigation

Firefighters have cleared the scene of a massive motel fire that broke out Monday evening in Commerce. The last of the crews left the Motel 6 in Banks Crossing around 1 p.m. Tuesday. Now, it is up to fire investigators to determine what caused the blaze.

Firefighters were dispatched to Motel 6 on Frontage Road in Commerce around 6:30 p.m. on June 20, 2022, after a 911 caller reported smoke coming from the building. (photo courtesy Banks County Fire Department)

Initial reports indicate the fire may have started on or near the top of the two-story building near Tanger Outlet Mall. When the first units arrived, firefighters reported heavy smoke from several areas of the second floor and roof. It took 112 firefighters from 12 different departments approximately 18 hours to contain and extinguish the blaze.

“We were kind of blessed to have that kind of a response with the heat and all. It was well needed. We went through a lot of firefighters fighting that fire,” says Banks County Fire Chief Steve Nichols.

Banks County 911 dispatched crews to the motel on Frontage Road around 6:30 p.m. on Monday, June 20, after a caller reported heavy smoke coming from the building. Due to the scope and size of the fire, Banks County requested mutual aid from neighboring cities and counties. Firefighters flooded into the area from Commerce, Cornelia, and Baldwin, along with multiple Franklin County fire departments, Habersham County Emergency Services, and Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto. The Homer Fire Department provided coverage for the rest of Banks County during the operation.

While fighting the fire, two Banks County firefighters were overcome by fatigue and heat exhaustion. An ambulance transported them to Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital for treatment. They were held overnight and released early Tuesday, says Nichols. There were no other injuries.

Extreme conditions

Banks County Fire Chief Steve Nichols says 112 firefighters responded to the scene. He says it took every one of them to fight the blaze due to the extreme heat. (photo by Banks County Fire Department)

The intensity of the fire and extreme summertime heat made fighting the fire a challenge. A smoke explosion inside the building forced firefighters to evacuate, causing them to attack the flames outside. While the fire and ensuing emergency response did not cause significant traffic disruptions in the heavily congested area, it did force the nearby Race Trac gas station to close.

“It’s very close. We did have a lot of large embers coming from the fire, so we took some mutual aid companies and positioned them there to keep an eye on the roof,” says Nichols. He calls the possibility of the gas station catching on fire one of their “biggest concerns” beyond getting motel guests and employees evacuated safely.

The Banks County Sheriff’s Office evacuated approximately 30 guests from the burning motel. They were given overnight lodging in other hotels but did lose some of their belongings.

The motel’s second floor and roof sustained heavy fire damage. The remainder of the building has water and smoke damage. Nichols can’t say if the building’s a total loss – that will be up to the insurance companies to decide. He does say the first floor is still pretty much intact. “Structurally, it looks like it’s in fairly good shape.”

It’s still not known what caused the fire.

“We’re looking at several different things. Our investigators are looking at it, and the State Fire Marshal’s Office is coming in the morning to look at it, so, hopefully, we can have an answer by tomorrow afternoon.” He adds, “There was a lot of hard work by a lot of good people yesterday who put that fire out.”

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