Responders from more than a dozen area agencies battled an intense fire Sunday night at Ocean Crest Motel, Oak Island’s only oceanfront motel.
The flames roared more than 40 feet in the air and destroyed a 12,000-square-foot building with about 20 rooms and two condominiums, roughly half of the complex, authorities reported. Owners Walter Logan and Roxane Quaranta lived in one of the condos and were able to escape unharmed. The fire started in a corner away from their condominium unit and the rest of the building was unoccupied and under renovation, said Oak Island Fire Chief Chris Anselmo.
The first fire engine arrived at 1417 E. Beach Drive at 10:08 p.m., four minutes after someone called 911 to report the fire. A strong storm had just struck the area, and Anselmo said sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph hampered suppression.
Within minutes, about one-third of the building facing the ocean was fully involved with flames, Anselmo said.
Police Chief W.L. Ingram said officers helped evacuate guests from other buildings at the motel and controlled traffic and onlookers.
Firefighters kept calling for additional help until more than a dozen agencies were on scene. Early in the incident, there were some problems with water pressure handling so many lines, but Brunswick County Utilities was able to increase pressure, he said.
“The wind was our worst enemy,” Anselmo said. “The fire was under control in three hours. Our whole focus was to save the (adjoining) house and other structures and we did.”
Anselmo said he doubted responders could have saved the structures around the building without so much help from other area agencies.
A couple of windows blew out on the house east of the building and some screens caught fire, but the structure was saved, the fire chief said. A separate motel building on the other side incurred some damage from melted vinyl siding, he said. An inspection revealed no interior water damage to either of the nearby structures, he said.
The fire destroyed a 1980s-era Corvette the owners had parked under the building. Anselmo said four or five other vehicles incurred paint, grill or headlamp damages from the heat.
Firefighters employed multiple tankers and a couple of temporary drop tanks to
supply enough water for as many as five hoses and the aerial ladder truck.
“It was a mess but we got through it with the loss of only the one building,” Anselmo said.
Mickey Burkett and Tammy Harbert from South Carolina had checked into their room in an adjacent building only hours earlier. After going out for dinner, they were dressed for bed when they heard yelling outside.
“At first I thought it was some kind of fight,” Harbert said. Then, they saw the fire engine arrive. Burkett said firefighters attacked the blaze even before someone banged on his door to warn him to leave.
The couple hastily gathered their things and tossed them in their pickup truck, which they moved to a safer spot. Burkette said he was impressed with the response. They were able to return to their room by about 3 a.m., he said.
“They did a really good job and they sent enough people to do the job,” he said.
“My head’s still spinning,” Harbert said Monday morning. “I’m just thankful that everybody got out.”
Firefighters assisting Oak Island included departments from St. James, Sunny Point, Sunset Harbor/Zion Hill, Southport, Bolivia, Boiling Spring Lakes, Supply, Winnabow, Civietown, Shallotte, Grissettown/Longwood and Tribeach. Leland Fire Department covered for another department during the incident. In addition to Oak Island Police, other responders included Brunswick County Emergency Medical Services, Brunswick County Emergency Management and Brunswick Electric Membership Corp.
Paula Kline, coordinator for the Oak Island Senior Center, supplied beverages and food for the firefighters who worked through the night.
The building did not have a fire suppression sprinkler system. A similar structure constructed today would have to have sprinklers, said Steve Edwards, development services director for the town.
Edwards said it would take a survey and other information to provide a definitive answer, but he believed the motel could be rebuilt if if were moved somewhat landward.
The cause of the fire was listed as unknown and Ingram said foul play was not suspected. As a precaution, however, Ingram said he would ask the State Bureau of Investigation’s arson squad to conduct an investigation.