The acrid smell of smoke lingered over Duval Street in Key West following a fire that engulfed the Heartbreak Hotel, causing no injuries but displacing 13 guests.
The effects were also felt in New Town as the strain put on water lines by the city Fire Department response caused a minor blowout along North Roosevelt Boulevard. That resulted in significant traffic delays during the morning rush.
Firefighters arrived at 716 Duval St. following a call just after 1 Tuesday morning, according to city spokeswoman Alyson Crean. She says the fire was under control by 3:30 a.m.
Crean says no one was injured and inspectors from the state Fire Marshal's Office are working to determine the cause of the blaze.
The city's fire crews deployed pump and ladder trucks to the scene, while calling in reinforcements from Naval Air Station Key West's Fire Department to fight the fire from the rear of the wooden building. Crean says that call was made with an eye on "ensuring the fire did not jump to any other of the city's historic structures."
The historical precedent was set April 1, 1886, when a coffee shop next door to the San Carlos Institute at 516 Duval St. ignited, ultimately burning down 18 cigar factories and 614 houses.
Conspiracy theorists pin that fire on the Spanish government, claiming the idea was to neutralize Key West as a seat of Cuban resistance to Spain's colonial rule of the nearby island nation.
Owned by Joseph Mancusi of Dania in Broward County, the two buildings comprising the Heartbreak Hotel were built in 1923 and 1943 and valued at $618,000, according to records maintained by the Monroe County Property Appraiser's Office.
And although the busted water line caused a bit of a traffic tangle, Fire Chief David Fraga says it didn't have any effect on responders and isn't cause for concern.
"We didn't even know there was an issue with the water lines," he says. "We never noticed any fluctuations in pressure. Quite frankly, it was a nonissue."
City Commissioner Billy Wardlow, a former fire chief, says the incident highlighted the need to rebuild the Old Town fire station at 525 Angela St. Commissioners have OK'd building a $4.8 million fire station at the site but work hasn't started yet.
"It's perfect timing for a new fire station," Wardlow said.
J.B. Hunt, regional advancement officer for the Key West chapter of the American Red Cross, says her group is helping five displaced hotel guests and working to contact eight others.