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Arson Suspected in Fire That Killed 3 U.S. Servicemen

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Arson is suspected in a fire that roared through a hotel early Sunday near a U.S. Navy base in the Philippines and killed three Americans, including one believed to be assigned to the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Ranger, U.S. and Filipino officials said.

Officials intensified efforts in the Philippines to identify all three, but said two were burned beyond recognition in the fire, which raced through the 34-room Royal Lodge Hotel in Olangapo, close to the Subic Bay base.

A Filipino woman also was killed and two other Americans were hurt in the fire, which began about 1:30 a.m. local time Sunday at the two-story hotel, one of many lodges around the base packed with sailors on the way to the Persian Gulf, officials said.

The two injured Americans were in stable condition at the Navy’s Subic Bay hospital, said Bob Coble, a base spokesman. They also were believed to be assigned to ships accompanying the Ranger, part of a massive convoy that arrived at Subic Bay from San Diego on Thursday on its way to the gulf.

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The Navy withheld the names of all five sailors. Filipino officials declined to release the name of the woman.

The cause of the fire was not determined, but officials said signs pointed to arson.

“We cannot discount the possibility of an arson, that’s what I think,” Ador Alfonso, an investigator with the U.S. Naval Investigative Service, said in a telephone interview. He declined to provide additional details.

Once ignited, the fire fanned rapidly through the hotel, Olangapo firefighters and police officers said. Witnesses told the Associated Press that dozens of Americans fled the hotel in their nightclothes.

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“It was a very quick fire,” Alfonso said.

The hotel is about a mile from the main gate at Subic, which is about 50 miles west of Manila, Cpl. Jose Gonzalez, an Olangapo police officer, said by phone. “It’s all ashes now,” he said.

“It was an old hotel,” Alfonso said. “It was not really a first-class hotel or second-class hotel, just an ordinary hotel.”

The Ranger and at least 13 other ships left San Diego and Long Beach earlier this month, headed for the Persian Gulf--the largest amphibious task force to ship out from Southern California since 1965.


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