Motel explosion injures employee
On the night the Hermitage Motel in Bartow closed, an explosion ripped through the back side of the building and seriously injured an employee.
Durbin Fire and Rescue responded to the scene about 7:30 p.m. last Tuesday night and found motel manager Darryl Wagner among the wreckage of living quarters at the rear of the building. Wagner, suffering from burns, was airlifted to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, where he is reported to be in good condition.
Fire chief Buster Varner said a small fire that was burning when firefighters arrived was quickly extinguished.
"There was a small motor fire but that was extinguished," he said. "Other than that, everything is still being investigated."
The chief said he suspected propane gas caused the blast.
On the night of the explosion, building wreckage could be observed from across the East Fork of the Greenbrier River. An approximately 30-foot wide, two-story section at the rear of the motel was completely destroyed. Two barbecue-size propane tanks could be observed near the debris.
State Fire Marshal's Office investigator B.J. Robinson visited the scene and is expected to issue a report soon.
Gregg Morse, executive manager of Old Dominion Hotels, LLC, said the motel closed on Tuesday, with the possibility of re-opening in the spring. He said he would have to confer with creditors and insurance representatives before deciding whether to reopen the motel.
"The bank and I were working on turning it back over, because of the economic situation," he said. "We were going to look at it again in the spring, but for now, we were in the process of closing."
"I can't really say what the plan is right now," he added. "It is still my responsibility. I've always worked closely with the bank. I took it over, working closely with them to try to get it going again. It worked for three years, but this last summer was really a killer."
The executive said the calamity was ill-timed.
"Everything out here in the country - we're all kind of close to the bone," he said. "So it doesn't take a lot to make you start scrambling and try to figure out how you're going to get through and I certainly didn't need this added on to my scrambling."
Morse said Robinson told him the motel's main building probably could not be repaired.
"The fire marshal did not believe that any engineer would find the building stable enough to repair," he said. "As near as we can tell, except for possible weather damage, the room units are okay - it's the main building that the fire marshal did not believe was structurally sound."
Morse said the motel was built in 1965 by Randolph Bledsoe, who followed very high construction standards. The owner said damage would have been much more severe, if not for the solid construction.
"The internal walls were, to a great extent, bulged or blown out," he said. "There is some bulging on the concrete. Mr Bledsoe certainly built a very sturdy building.
He built it probably sturdier than what you would normally. He didn't have to, back in 1965 - there were hardly any building codes."
Morse said the motel was equipped with a 1,000 gallon propane tank that was emptied by gas company workers after the explosion, as a precaution. That tank was located in a different area from the blast, but supplied propane to the entire motel.