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How a Late-Night Mistake Resulted in a Hotel Room Fire

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My recent trip to visit Airbus in Toulouse, France got off to a very bad start when I accidentally started a fire in my hotel room. But let’s back up a bit…

A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation to join Singapore Airlines for a A350 delivery flight from Toulouse, France to Singapore. It wasn’t Singapore’s first A350 — it was its sixth — but this just so happened to be the 10,000th airplane Airbus has ever delivered, so naturally it was a very big deal.

Toulouse is severely lacking in the points hotels department, but there was a Radisson Blu near the airport. Since I have the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card, I have Gold elite status, which entitles me to a room upgrade. I actually managed to score a free upgrade to an Executive Suite (room 272), and since I booked a lower-category room my total ended up coming to $415 for three nights, and breakfast was included as well. Not bad at all!

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This room even offered a view of Airbus — it was just an office building, but at least it was an Airbus office building.

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The suite consisted of a living room and a separate bedroom — it wasn’t the most luxuriously furnished, but considering the price it was really quite a deal. The room was in great condition for my first night at the hotel, after which point it was rendered uninhabitable…

Here’s a picture of the bathroom. Now, this is important. Notice the hand towel rack next to the sink? I realize that it’s far off in the distance, but that’s about as good of a look I had gotten as well. We’ll come back to this in a bit.

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The Fire

Since all of the hangers were occupied, I hung my t-shirt to air out on the towel rack in the bedroom just before going to sleep. Why was there a towel rack in the bathroom and one in the bedroom? Well, I didn’t think much of it at the time. The next morning, I decided to hit the gym one floor below before heading over to Airbus HQ. I turned on the bedroom floor lamp to get ready, but I neglected to turn it off before leaving the room.

When I returned to my floor after going to the gym, I noticed a strong smokey smell — and there was a fair amount of smoke in the hallway. The fire alarm wasn’t going off though. I walked to my room and touched the handle just as I learned in elementary school — it wasn’t warm. When I opened the door there was even more smoke. A lot of smoke. And the room had a “burnt” smell to it.

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I also noticed that there was some kind of air circulation device on the floor that hadn’t been there before. That was odd on its own, especially given that the Do Not Disturb sign was hanging on the door. My first assumption was that someone from the hotel had installed some sort of smoke machine in my room. Perhaps I was being “punked.” I called the operator in a bit of a panic, telling him about the smoke. He said he’d send someone up so I grabbed my passport and iPhone and went to wait in the hallway.

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About five minutes later (five minutes to deal with a fire?!?) a lady dressed in a business suit appeared at the other end of the long hallway, and was slowly walking toward my room. When she finally arrived, she took me in the room and explained what had happened…

Apparently there had been a fire, and it was all my fault. Imagine my horror. A moment later, a manager arrived holding this:

Today I (very much accidentally) set my hotel room on fire… story to come. 🚒

A photo posted by @ZachHonig (@zachhonig) on

That was the t-shirt I had hung up to air out on the towel rack the night before. Except that wasn’t a towel rack — it was a light fixture with a halogen bulb! Shortly after I had left to go to the gym, my shirt burst into flames, creating smoke and (thankfully) activating the smoke detector, which alerted the front desk (but, much to my relief, didn’t prompt an evacuation). The hotel employees weren’t thrilled, but they handled the situation well, and (very) fortunately I hadn’t caused any serious damage. Unfortunately the windows in this hotel are sealed, so apparently the only way to clear out the smoke was to use an air purifier.

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Once I explained my confusion, they were a bit more polite. When the light is off (as in the picture below), the fixture resembles the towel rack in the bathroom. In my post-redeye stupor the night before, the unusual “towel rack” placement in the bedroom didn’t give me any pause. My mistake.

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Now, here’s the towel rack up close — they do look quite a bit different, but given how exhausted I was the night before it doesn’t seem unreasonable (to me, at least) that I’d gotten them mixed up.

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Unfortunately the hotel was fully booked, and there wasn’t another room available that morning. Wanting to minimize my smoke inhalation, I very quickly showered and packed up my bag then made my way down to the lobby, where I spent the next hour until it was time to head to Airbus. The staff promised to move me to a new room if the smoke didn’t clear.

Shortly after my arrival in the lobby, I quickly realized that the entire staff now knew who I was — that I had been reckless and had started a fire. I don’t think I’ve felt more embarrassed in a hotel before. A couple workers at breakfast even made comments to me about it. Perhaps they were just joking around, but it certainly didn’t help me feel any better.

Moving to a New Room

That evening, I checked with the front desk to see if I had been moved. Apparently my room was “fine,” so they left me there. It smelled just as terrible as when I had left it that morning, though, so I asked to be moved. Fortunately they had a very similar suite open (room 335), so that’s where they moved me. It was on the opposite side of the building, but the layout was similar.

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It had an entirely different view — of the hotel’s courtyard.

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The bedroom was more or less identical, and this one didn’t reek of smoke, which was a big plus.

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It had that same halogen lamp, which I immediately switched off. I suppose it’s there for makeup application, etc., but it still looks like a towel rack to me.

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Bottom Line

So, why am I sharing this most embarrassing story? For me, it serves as a reminder to be just as careful and responsible in hotel rooms as I am at home. I know many of us are a bit more careless when staying at a hotel, but if you aren’t paying attention, you could find yourself in a similar situation.

And I was very lucky that the smoke detector worked and the staff responded quickly. If not, the entire room very likely would have been engulfed in flames, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage and eating up all of my belongings in the process. If I had fallen asleep or there were guests in the next room when that happened, the situation could have been even worse.

Since thank goodness nobody was injured, and no property was destroyed, I can look back at this as a learning experience. Going forward, you better believe I’m going to think twice before hanging up my clothes in a hotel room.

Have you ever caused “drama” at a hotel?

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