Looking for clues in the charred remains of a coast hotel

Agents from ATF, the state fire marshal's office, and local investigators are combing through the wreckage of the Howard Johnson hotel in St. Martin.
Agents from ATF, the state fire marshal's office, and local investigators are combing through the wreckage of the Howard Johnson hotel in St. Martin.

ST. MARTIN, MS (WLOX) - Piles of rubble and a burned out building are all that's left of the Howard Johnson in St. Martin.  Somewhere in all the mess are answers. Where did the fire start and why?  It's not going to be easy finding those answers.

Justin Bouler is the Jackson County Fire Investigator.

"This is my first of this large size," Bouler said. "The last extensive fire we had in Jackson County of this magnitude was The Shed fire, and that was liking finding a needle in a haystack, which we're still working."

Lots of help has arrived to dig through the charred remains of what were once nice hotel rooms. Even the federal government is involved in the investigation.

Joel Lee is the supervisory agent with ATF.

"The size of the incident, the fact that this is a business that affects interstate commerce, those are all reasons that ATF and the federal government are getting involved with helping out the state and local fire officials," Lee explained.

In most fires, finding the cause is a relatively simple process. Not so with this fire. The damage was extensive and looking for clues is very hard, according to Jackson County Fire Coordinator Earl Etheridge.

"You have to go through and determine where the fire started and what would be the most likely thing that caused the fire to start," Etheridge said.  "Was it an electrical short? Was there a cigarette left somewhere?"

Meanwhile, the owner of the hotel, Surjit Sindh, sits and ponders the future. Despite all the questions right now, he is certain of one thing.

"We will rebuild back again. Maybe a new hotel in the same place, but we don't know anything at this time."

Not knowing is the hardest part right now, but Sindh and his family are hoping for quick answers and better days ahead.

Investigators say it could be several days before they determine the exact cause of the fire.

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