SOUTH PORTLAND – A small propane heater that was being used in a motel room started a two-alarm fire that destroyed part of the Knights Inn on Thursday morning.

David Jauchius, 60, was using portable propane canisters to run the heater, even though other tenants in the motel on Main Street said the baseboard heat was adequate.

Investigators with the state Fire Marshal’s Office said a leak in the connection between the canister and the heater likely caused the fire, which sent Jauchius to the hospital with burns to his face and arms.

Firefighters called in the state investigators after a search of the room turned up 123 of the disposable propane canisters, most of which were empty.

Some of the canisters exploded in the fire. Four motel rooms and much of the roof were destroyed, and smoke damaged all of the units in that section of the single-story motel.

A separate building of the motel, which caught fire eight years ago when it was called the Budget Inn, was not affected Thursday. Displaced residents were given rooms there.

Ed Sullivan was watching television with his girlfriend in his room about 9:30 a.m. when he heard a crackling sound.

“It was just a matter of seconds and that whole corner of the building was in flames,” said Sullivan, one of several tenants who live at the motel in the winter, renting by the week. “Flames were just shooting out the windows.”

Tenants banged on doors to warn other residents, and the cleaning woman went door-to-door, using her key to make sure nobody was inside, he said.

A young family, including a baby, was in the room next to where the fire started. They had to climb out a rear window because the door to their room was blocked by fire, said Fire Chief Kevin Guimond.

The department struck a second alarm to summon additional personnel, and engines from neighboring towns covered the city’s fire stations. Firefighters contained the fire to one end of the motel, and by 10:30 a.m. they were extinguishing smoldering embers and cleaning up.

One tenant was treated for smoke inhalation, and one of the firefighters suffered a minor shoulder injury fighting the blaze, Guimond said.

The American Red Cross was helping the tenants, many of whom lost all of their clothing and other belongings.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com