Case Study: Winecoff Hotel Fire, Atlanta, GA

There are few things that strike fear in our hearts like hearing about a fire. When one occurs in a public setting like a hotel or a theater, the potential for all kinds of devastation increases greatly. In our country's history, there have been several fires that would be considered disastrous. In order to learn from history, we must look at the causes of some of these fires and see what we can do differently. As we continue with our case studies of various fires in U.S. history, today we will look at the Winecoff Hotel fire that took place in Atlanta, Georga in 1946.

The Winecoff Hotel fire is still thought of to be one of the most tragic fires in America's history. On December 7, 1946, a fire broke out on the 3rd floor of the hotel, where a chair and a mattress were left in the hallway. The exact cause of the fire is unknown, but many believe it was due to a cigarette that was thrown on or near those pieces of furniture. Once the fire was set in motion, the burlap wall coverings in the hallway provided even more ammunition for the spread of this deadly fire. After the initial start, the fire raged so intensely that the door and the transoms were completely burnt through, as far up as the 15th floor.

Another contributing factor to the severity of this fire and the loss of life that occurred was the inadequate escape exits. For all 15 floors, there was only one staircase that was used for an exit. This resulted in all of the people who were in the rooms above the 3rd being trapped in the burning building. Those who survived were either caught in rescue nets used by the fire department, or they were saved from their windows. However, several individuals - 32 to be exact - lost their lives trying to escape themselves - either by jumping from the windows or using make-shirt sheet ropes. Combined with those who died in the fire itself, 119 people in total lost their lives.

In a cruel, ironic twist, the hotel that was advertised as 'absolutely flameproof' burnt to the ground. While it's true the structure itself might have been flameproof, there were many items used for decoration that were highly susceptible to fire.

As a result of this fire, reviews to existing fire codes were conducted, and critical changes were made. Combustible materials became an important area for review.  Research was conducted to ascertain the levels of flammability of certain items and materials. Thankfully, we learned our lesson from this tragedy, and the fire codes were ultimately changed to include sections to address the issue of the flammability of decorative materials.

It is sad that it took a tragedy like the Winecoff Fire Hotel to make us aware of how important flameproofing measures are, but thankfully, tragic fires like this today are few and far between because of fireproofing codes and techniques that are now in place. It's clear to see what a significant role the flammability of the items hung in the hotel played in this tragedy. In present times, fire safety regulations require curtains, drapes, and hangings to be sprayed with flame repellents. Had these codes been in place in 1946, the outcome certainly would have been different and more favorable.

Manhattan Flameproofing exists to make sure that devastating fires like the Winecoff Hotel fire do not occur again. Our mission is to keep business establishments safe from the threat of fire. Manhattan Flameproofing is happy to serve you and help you with your flameproofing needs. Please call us at 1-800-268-7993 for a free, no-obligation estimate.