OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines -- A fast-moving fire ripped through a small hotel early Friday morning near the former United States naval base in Subic Bay, killing seven people, including four foreign visitors to the area, officials said.
The fire started on the ground floor of the Dryden Hotel Subic, in the Barrio Barretto entertainment district, sending flames and smoke into upstairs rooms where guests were sleeping, Jose Borlagdatan, Olongapo City's chief fire investigator, said in an interview outside the establishment.
Fire investigators on the scene described a hellish situation as the fire raged through the hotel's upper floors, where guests died trying to escape fast-moving flames and intense smoke. One woman was found dead cowering in a cabinet apparently trying to avoid the smoke.
"The casualties were the people sleeping upstairs," said Mr. Borlagdatan, who added that the cause of the blaze was still under investigation.
Mr. Borlagdatan said hotel front desk registration records helped identify three American fatalities – James Brigati of Kodiak, Alaska, and Patrick Burt and Joseph Valuso, whose cities of residence were not known. A South Korean national was identified as Kyung Ook Kim of Suwan City.
The other casualties were nationals of the Philippines whose identities had not yet been determined, Mr. Borlagdatan said.
The fire department received the initial report of the blaze at 3:37 a.m. Friday morning and quickly extinguished it upon arriving at the scene, said Mr. Barlagdatan.
Jovy Lustre, a cashier and front desk clerk working at the hotel when the fire broke out, that she was alerted when a co-worker ran from the back of the establishment yelling "fire."
Ms. Lustre said she checked the back of the hotel and saw fire near a back office, with flames licking the ceiling and sending smoke gushing forward. She said she tried to call the fire department but the hotel phone had no dial tone. She ran to a nearby community center to report the incident.
"The fire got bigger and bigger," she said. "It was fast."
On Friday afternoon, the hotel – which is along a national highway about 100 miles north of Manila – appeared gutted. The windows on the second floor, where guests where sleeping when the fire broke out, were broken and the panes were charred.
The hotel, lodged between the Lollipop and Rum Jungle nightclubs, which were also damaged in the fire, offered rooms from $20 to $30 for visitors to the beach and entertainment district near Subic Bay.
The United States turned over the Subic Bay Naval Base to the Philippines in 1991 and since then the facility has been transformed into a special economic zone. Neighboring Olongapo City was a booming red-light district for decades while the navy base supported the operations of the American navy's Seventh Fleet.
In the 20 years since the base was handed over, Olongapo has retained a red-light district but has also gained popularity as a popular beach resort area for Filipino families seeking to escape the heat and congestion of Manila.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.