The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Clovis fire chief: Hotel fire was arson

 


Monday night’s fire at the Hotel Clovis was arson, Clovis Fire Chief Ron Edwards said.

“We’re not going to classify the type of arson but we know it was a set fire,” Edwards said. “There were no utilities and there was no reason for it to start except people generating it.”

Edwards said the fire began in the old kitchen area of the north annex of the hotel, and smoke spread throughout the building. Investigators found a window open in a rear area not visible from the street and believe that was related to the fire.

“It’s not been figured out how they entered the building yet, and we’re not for sure they even entered the building,” Edwards said. “We are speculating that somebody pried the covering off the window and ignited the fire that way by throwing something in.”

Whatever started the fire landed on a shelf near the window and began to burn paper, wood, and other items left in the old kitchen, Edwards said.

While Monday’s fire wasn’t the first since the 72-year-old Hotel Clovis closed in 1983, Edwards said it was the first time firefighters had to respond to the building. Previous fires had burned out on their own due to lack of fuel and investigators only learned about them during inspections of the building.

Edwards said Monday’s fire probably would have burned itself out as well.

“The fire had consumed the combustibles that were in there; we spent most of our time evacuating the smoke from the building,” Edwards said. Smoke damage would have been extensive if it were not for the poor condition of the building, but Edwards said there was no structural damage.

The hotel, once the tallest building in New Mexico and a center of activity in Depression-era Clovis, is owned by the Hispano Business Council. But Clovis city officials earlier this year, citing safety concerns, paid about $30,000 to have the building secured against intruders. The city has begun foreclosure proceedings against the HBC, which owes about $5,000 in taxes.

HBC board members on Monday were critical of the city’s handling of security for the building. But City Attorney David Richards said that while the city closed up the building and is billing the HBC for those expenses, the owners remain liable for damages caused by failure to secure the building against intruders.

“They have the same responsibility as any other business or property owner to take care of their own property, that is their obligation,” Richards said.

Richards said a foreclosure trial is scheduled for Nov. 7 in Curry County District Court. If the Hispano Business Council loses its case, the property reverts to the city after one year.

Samuel Cordova, chairman of the Hispano Business Council board, said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of the Nov. 7 trial date.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it, and I hope the judge looks at the way the contractor did it (secured the building),” Cordova said. “We are not happy with (the city manager) just trying to take the building from us. Why is he spending time trying to get the building the city doesn’t have any plans for?”

“I hope the city can work with us on getting something done with the hotel,” Cordova said. “We’ve tried to work with the city, and we are hoping in the future we can get something done.”

 
 

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