John Hayden was asleep in his Southeast Albuquerque motel room when he heard frantic yelling around 2 a.m. Tuesday.
“I heard screaming: ‘Fire, fire, fire, get out!’ ” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I could see the bathroom light flickering. I threw a few things in my suitcase and just ran out the door.”
Once he got outside, he saw a large section of the seedy but iconic Desert Sands motel was in flames.
“One door down the fire was blazing like a son of a gun. And I could feel the heat tremendously,” he said.
It took more than 60 firefighters hours to knock down the flames, which gutted the west upper level section of the motel and made the rest of it uninhabitable. Twenty-two fire trucks and vehicles responded.
Hayden was one of 57 residents – some of whom have been staying there months – displaced by the fire. Two people were taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation, Albuquerque Fire Department spokeswoman Melissa Romero said.
The Red Cross helped house some of the people, and Hayden said they set him up with another motel room.
Firefighters are investigating the cause of the fire but don’t yet know what sparked it, according to Romero.
Some residents reported hearing an explosion, but Romero said she wasn’t aware of any explosions that may have occurred.
The motel, which is on a stretch of Central Avenue known for drug and property crimes, was nevertheless a classic Route 66 icon. It was the setting for a scene in the movie “No Country for Old Men.”
Romero said the motel is currently uninhabitable, and the city will decide if it needs to be razed once firefighters are done investigating.
Later Tuesday morning, residents showed up to try to claim any remaining items that may have survived the flames.
Hayden was there looking for one of his more important items – his false teeth, which he left in the room as he fled in a panic.
All he took with him were a few pairs of pants, shirts and underwear.
“I don’t believe this; this is very devastating,” he said. “I have nothing, absolutely nothing. Nothing at all.”
But he said things could be a lot worse.
“I just thank God that I made it out alive,” he said. “I can’t thank God enough. My life is so much more important.”