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4th Body Found in Hotel Fire; Search for Others Continuing

from Associated Press

A fourth body was found Saturday as authorities continued a top-to-bottom search of the wreckage of a hotel that was swept by fire as residents slept.

Fourteen tenants were still unaccounted for in the fire that hit the Fontana Hotel before dawn Friday. However, the four bodies found have not been identified, so they could be among the 14 missing tenants.

“We believe there are more victims inside,” police Capt. Rocco DeLeo said. “What we are doing is getting details from relatives of people who, we believe, are missing and getting the physical characteristics of these persons.”

All but one of the 102 rooms were rented out, but no one is sure exactly how many people were in the hotel at the time of the fire, said Olimpia Mihai, one of the Fontana’s owner-managers. Estimates of the number of inhabitants have ranged up to 150; the registration records were burned in the fire.

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As federal, state and city teams launched a search, a crane was brought in to help pick apart the ruins of the hotel.

With the cause of the fire still a mystery, U.S. Magistrate Linnea Johnson issued a search warrant at the request of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to preserve any evidence that might be needed later. The bureau conducts arson investigations.

Mayor Alex Daoud said fire officials told him Friday that arson was strongly suspected, but Fire Chief Branaird Dorris said tenants had mentioned a water leak, which raised the possibility of an electrical short.

U.S. Atty. Dexter Lehtinen, who donned a hard hat to inspect the three-story hotel, said the purpose of the warrant was to legally preserve any possible evidence.

Asked when the death toll would be known, Robert Creighton, ATF agent in charge of the Florida office, said: “We may have that in two days. It all depends on what we find.”


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