Event in Atlanta Remembers America’s Worst Hotel Fire 60 Years on

On December 7, a commemoration was held in Atlanta to mark the 60th anniversary of the Winecoff Hotel Fire of December 7, 1946.

Today the tragedy is a little-known footnote in history, but the fire has the unwelcome distinction of being the deadliest hotel blaze in the history of the United States, killing 119 hotel occupants and the owners.

On December 7, Rick Roberts spoke to people gathered at The Spotted Dog — which once housed Fire Station 11 — during a commemoration to mark the 60th anniversary of the Winecoff Hotel fire in downtown Atlanta. Roberts was a firefighter at the time of the disaster. He went on to become a battalion chief, and helped save several lives on that tragic day.

The hotel was located at 176 Peachtree Street in Atlanta. When it was built it was advertised as being absolutely fireproof. Unfortunately, the boast was akin to that of the Titanic being unsinkable.

Although the hotel’s steel structure was protected against the effects of fire, the finishes were highly flammable and the the only way out of the hotel was a single stairway serving all 15 floors.  When a fire broke out in 1946, all of the occupants of the hotel who were above the seat of the fire on the third floor became trapped.

They could either await rescue in upper floor windows or jump into nets held by firefighters. Sadly many of them ended up jumping to their deaths. The fire claimed the lives of about half of the hotel’s residents.

It often takes a disaster to expose the inadequacies of rules and building codes, and this certainly proved to be the case in the wake of the Winecoff Hotel fire. The “absolutely fireproof” hotel had been built in 1913 without sprinklers, fire escapes or even an alarm system.

The Atlanta fire was the third serious hotel fire in 1946. In June, 1946, 61 people were killed in a fire in the La Salle Hotel in Chicago and 19 people were killed in the same year in a blaze in the Canfield Hotel in Dubuque, Iowa.

The three tragedies had a dramatic effect on the regulations at the time. U.S. President Harry S. Truman convened a national conference on fire prevention in 1947.

The hotel fires had highlighted how unprotected stair openings provided paths for the spread of smoke and also meant these stairways were cut off as a means of escape.

The emphasis in building design and construction was changed in the wake of the tragedies which saw a retreat from the protection of property to the protection of guests and residents. The Winecoff fire led local and federal agencies to incorporate wartime research into the flammability of building materials into code requirements and design standards.

Today stricter codes and standards mean we fortunately see far fewer tragedies like the one that took place at the Winecoff Hotel. Even so as a premises liability lawyer in Marietta, I see plenty of instances in which people are injured and even killed due to problems on the property of another, be it faulty electrical wiring, the presence of inflammable substances which causes a fire, inadequate maintenance or slippery substances left on floors that can lead to slip and fall cases.

Property owners must always be vigilant that they are meeting safety codes and not inviting visitors to premises that are dangerous.

If you have been injured at a hotel, store or at any other premises in Georgia, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit against the owners or a management company. Call the expe­ri­enced Geor­gia car acci­dent attor­neys at the Keener Law Firm for a free con­fi­den­tial con­sul­ta­tion at 770–955‑3000.