THE Wyndham Kingston Hotel was forced shut yesterday after a pre-dawn fire damaged critical sections of the 303-room property in the heart of the capital city's financial district.
Two of the approximately 70 firefighters who battled the blaze for more than six hours suffered first-degree burns and were treated at hospital.
Last night, the Jamaica Observer learnt that the hotel was running at about 70 per cent occupancy when the tragedy occurred. However, none of the guests -- who occupied approximately 240 rooms -- or employees were hurt.
The blaze resulted in guests being transferred to other hotels in Kingston. Some of the Wyndham's approximately 300 workers will be on duty today in order to make alternative arrangements for pre-booked clients. However, the hotel's owners were unable to say when the seven-and-a-half-acre property would resume full operations as they have to await damage assessment from their insurers.
The fire, which began in the kitchen shortly after midnight, damaged two restaurants, the banquet area, the ballroom, general storeroom, general accounting department, the engineering plant room, and the laundry, a representative of the Jamaica Fire Department said.
Firefighters used seven units from the Kingston, Half-Way-Tree, York Park, and Spanish Town fire stations to bring the blaze under control by mid-morning yesterday.
Police closed several streets in the busy financial hub, causing gridlock as motorists in morning peak hour traffic were forced to find alternative routes to their destinations.
The area was still cordoned off and guarded by police up to 5:00 pm yesterday.
Thick black smoke billowing from the landmark building could be seen from as far as Cross Roads.
"It was one of the largest operations the fire department has carried out since the start of the year," said Emilio Ebanks, communication officer of the Jamaica fire Department.
Up to press time last night, police reported that they had not been updated by the fire department about the cause of the blaze, but said they were still investigating.
The fire gave Jamaican and foreign guests inside the hotel nervous moments.
Some guests, who stood on the outside watching as firefighters carried out cooling-down operations, were still in shock and many could be heard recounting their experiences.
"I was in my room when I heard the alarm go off, and that was when I woke up and noticed that there was smoke," said Dwight Sangster, a Jamaican who resides in Spain.
He said that he woke up his wife, secured his young son and they made their way to the lobby.
"I rushed out. I left everything behind," said Sangster, his bare feet proof of his hasty exit.
Chris Davidson, a guest from New York, was livid.
"I was in my room and I heard the alarm go off, but then it stopped and started again. At that point, I was not sure what was happening," he said.
"The exit areas were not properly lit; people were just moving all over the place trying to find the exit area," added Davidson, who said he works as a safety supervisor.
Davidson said that at one point he made an attempt to get to the lobby but ended up in a room and was almost overcome by thick smoke.
"That was when I rushed back to where I was coming from. When I finally made it to the exit area, I saw people gathered," he said.
Nick Ginac, who is from Windsor in Canada, recounted his experience while trying to locate a substitute room secured for him by hotel officials.
"When I heard the alarm I got up, but I was not really scared," said Ginac, who explained that he had been in worse situations.
"This situation was not so bad. I was in Egypt in a hotel close to where someone blew up a building," he said.
"I think the matter was dealt with professionally by [Wyndham] hotel officials. I am just happy everyone is safe," he added.
Hotel workers also stood nervously outside waiting to hear what the future held as far as their jobs were concerned.
"At this point in time it's just a nervous period for me," said Candy Lewis. "I am just praying and hoping that this does not affect my job."
A co-worker of hers, who said he has been employed to the hotel for more than 10 years, could not hide his pain.
"I am just concerned. I have been working at the hotel for over 10 years and this has really caused a blow. I have my mortgage, and to hear that this has happened has really left me worried," said the man who asked not to be named.