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Investigators work to determine cause of Lawrence hotel fire

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Firefighters continue to face bitter cold conditions in their battle to put out hot spots from a fire that destroyed a hotel overnight.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the blaze at America's Best Value Inn on McDonald Drive.

The fire department is waiting for special equipment to arrive from the insurance company, to make what's left of the hotel safe for investigators to get inside.

Monday night a heavy equipment operator took down a wall that posed a threat to a nearby apartment building. Eight residents were temporarily evacuated from that building, but allowed to return before 10:30 p.m.

The fire department says three firefighters suffered minor injuries. One fell through the floor while battling the blaze. One staff member at the hotel also suffered a minor, smoke-related injury. But nobody needed to be hospitalized. The injured all were assessed and released at the fire scene.

Investigators are moving ahead with interviews to help them determine the cause.

"We do have already, based on interviews, some leads that we are following," said Division Chief James King of the Lawrence/Douglas County Fire Department. "Certainly as we are able to get in and excavate the site, render it safe, start looking for that area of origin. Then we’ll look for cues and clues at that site that will guide us as well, to make a determination."

King says five rooms at the hotel were leased to 11 tenants. Not all were home at the time of the fire. Four hotel workers were on duty when firefighters arrived. They also are being interviewed as part of the investigation. So far, King says he has no information that leads investigators to believe the blaze is suspicious.

Southbound McDonald Drive remained closed for most of the morning. The fire department recently reopened it to traffic.