Over 100 people displaced in West Des Moines extended-stay hotel fire

A large fire at the Valley West Inn in West Des Moines displaced more than 100 people, hospitalized two and injured six others late Monday night.

At approximately 11:15 p.m. West Des Moines Fire Department was called to the large fire at the Valley West Inn extended stay hotel at 3535 Westown Parkway in West Des Moines. West Des Moines Fire Marshal Mike Whitsell said the fire started in a first-floor room in one of the three buildings that make up the hotel. The exact location in the room where the fire started was still being determined on Tuesday, Whitsell said.

When firefighters arrived, residents were scrambling, Witsell said. While some residents were already out of the building, “many” needed help getting out, Whitsell said.

Some residents also opted to jump out of first- and second-story windows, hand firefighters’ children out the windows, with one person crawling outside the building, Whitsell said. Firefighters also transported people on ladders, he said.

“We were taking whatever we could with the staff we had to climb ladders up to the building,” Whitsell said. “You didn’t have time to get exactly what you needed.”

The building caught fire while many of its residents were sleeping, Whitsell said. When people woke up, they found their hallways filled with smoke.

“It was pretty chaotic,” Whitsell said. “Between our firefighters and our residents, they told us there was zero visibility in a lot of these hallways. Even though they were lying on the ground and crawling, it wasn’t improving much at all.”

Six people were treated at the scene for minor injuries. Two have been hospitalized, but at least one has already been released, Whitsell said. He didn’t know the other person’s condition.

“We were extremely lucky to get everyone out,” Whitsell said.

It took about 45 minutes to bring the fire under control. On Tuesday, investigators were at the hotel and crews were monitoring hot spots.

There are 142 rooms in the hotel. Of those, 127 were occupied, Whitsell said. The building where the fire broke out suffered extensive water, smoke and fire damage. Part of the roof also collapsed.

A second building in the hotel complex also suffered extensive smoke damage. The third sustained minor smoke damage on the third floor, Whitsell said.

The hotel was built in 1972, according to Polk County Auditor records. A fire sprinkler system was not required when the building was constructed and it has not met the criteria to add one since then, Whitsell said.

There was a fire alarm system — albeit old — that had no alarms in the bedrooms, Whitsell said.

“The codes were very different back then,” Whitsell said.

All five West Des Moines fire stations responded, as did most ambulances in the city, Whitsell said. Urbandale, Waukee, Clive, Windsor Heights and Johnston departments also sent firefighters or ambulances to the scene, he said.

On Monday evening, firefighters were unable to spray water on the fire in the attic immediately as the heat, water and smoke would have been pushed back onto residents trying to escape and firefighters helped them, Whitsell said.

“We were shooting water from the pipes in the windows, containing the fire,” Whitsell said. “We just had to be very careful of when we could fully open things up to put out the fire so it wouldn’t be a harm.”

Philip Joens covers breaking news for The Des Moines Register. He can be reached at 515-443-3347 at [email protected] or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.

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