Fire damages Gonzales hotel, woman charged
A Houston woman suspected of intentionally starting a fire that torched and destroyed the Western Inn on Hwy. 30 in Gonzales early Tuesday morning has been charged by city police with one count of aggravated arson.
Chief Arson Investigator Marc Reech of the Fire Marshal’s Office said investigators waited until Wednesday for Corrine Herbert, 29, to be released from St. Elizabeth Hospital where she was taken from the scene of the fire for psychiatric observation. Hebert was questioned and charged by the Gonzales Police Department.
“She apparently threatened to commit suicide at the scene,” Police Chief Bill Landry said, adding that police protocol on a suicide threat is to take the person to a medical facility.
None of the more than 80 people staying in the newly renovated hotel was injured in a blaze that Gonzales Police officers said shot flames up to 100 feet into the air.
Landry said Herbert apparently started the fire with a cigarette lighter, then tried to get out of the room when it got too hot.
“The hotel is a total loss, about a $2 million loss,” said Gonzales acting Fire Chief Tracey Normand.
Most of the people staying in the hotel were plant workers and FEMA and debris removal workers, Landry said.
“An Acadian ambulance just passing through on a transfer stopped when they saw smoke,” according to Landry. “They were first on the scene and helped some of the tenants get out.”
One of the owners of the hotel went around knocking on doors, alerting motel guests, Normand said. The 40-room hotel was about 90 percent occupied at the time, he said.
“It was reported as a fire in the back of the building around 12:45 a.m. by someone who saw flames coming through the roof on the northwest corner of the hotel,” said Normand.
Twenty to 22 rooms were burned completely away according to Normand, while others suffered heat and smoke damage. From 60 to 70 percent of the first floor rooms sustained water damage.
Gonzales firefighters responded with two fire engines and one ladder truck, bringing the fire under control within about 45 minutes, and then extinguishing subsequent hot spots.
Herbert was staying in room 208, apparently alone, where the fire is believed to have started, Reech said. Based on evidence at the scene and comments from witnesses, investigators charged Herbert with deliberately setting the blaze.
According to Normand, the fire started upstairs and worked its way up to the common roof over all the inn rooms, where it spread rapidly.
Herbert was incarcerated in the parish jail in Donaldsonville Thursday. No bond had been set at press time.