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'We could have died': Questions remain after fatal, suspicious fire at Prince George's Econo Lodge

Alberta woman describes traumatic experience of fire

Questions are still being pondered after the fatal Econo Lodge fire in Prince George almost two weeks ago that claimed the lives of three people and an Alberta woman says if she hadn't woken up to use the washroom, her family could have died.

On the morning of July 8, a room/balcony of the motel was visibly on fire with smoke barrelling out of the structure and numerous emergency crews were on scene. 

Brooks, Alta. resident Martine Wells was only staying at the hotel for one night while on the way to Prince Rupert for her uncle's funeral. 

"All our beds were behind another door in the hotel room," she told PrinceGeorgeMatters. "It was compartmentalized." 

Wells says she woke up around 10 a.m. to use the washroom. When she came back to the room, her boyfriend woke up and asked her where a smoky smell was coming from.

"[I] still didn't smell anything, but my instincts were to go open the front door of the hotel room."

When she opened the door, she says there was a huge fire right in front of her and the staircase was engulfed in flames. She screamed and ran back to the bedroom and told her boyfriend the hotel was on fire. 

"I grabbed the kids, my phone, and my purse and ran out the door." Wells added. 

"My boyfriend was right behind me with our luggage because we had packed and made sure everything was ready to go as soon as we woke up."

She says they were extremely lucky there was a fire-escape door right beside her room (#120) or else they would have had to jump out a window to escape the massive fire.

After running out of the hotel, she says the whole top floor of the hotel was on fire. She then remembered that she forgot her car keys and glasses in the room. 

"I was so worried because we were only there for the night to sleep then hit the road again. I thought we were stuck there and I was completely panicked."

Wells said she almost ran back inside to get the items, but police stopped her and told her that she was not allowed to go back inside the structure. 

She said another red flag was the alleged report of no sprinklers or fire alarms going off. 

"We read that someone did scream fire and people were being helped out of there rooms but we didn't hear anything."

Roughly an hour into the fire, Wells said she and her family were still asleep, and believes if she had not woken up to use the washroom, the outcome could have been very different. 

"It was very traumatic for us because what if I didn't wake up to use the washroom? We could have died."

Back home in Alberta, she says her three-year-old daughter still keeps talking about the blaze. 

"We're all still pretty shaken up about it, but more in disbelief like, I can't believe that actually happened," she says. "But happy to be home."

Fire crews found three people dead within the building at roughly 12:30 p.m.

Police RCMP have said the fire is believed to be arson after the Serious Crime Section was brought in to investigate the 'suspicious' fire. 

Alongside Prince George Fire Rescue, BC Office of the Fire Commissioner and North District RCMP, the serious crime unit believe the fire was deliberately set. 

The following Saturday (July 11), police arrested a suspect as part of its investigation; they were released without charges as the investigation continues. 

"Police are unable to comment further at this time," a release said.

"However we are taking all necessary steps to advance this investigation in the interest of public safety."

Cpl Craig Douglass added a criminal negligence investigation has also been launched after reports that fire alarms did not sound in the building when the fire happened. 

"Both of these complex investigations are continuing and are a priority for the detachment."