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The Winecoff Fire: The Untold Story of America’s Deadliest Hotel Fire

More than a half-century later, the question still persists: accident or arson?

As America slept in the predawn hours of December 7, 1946 - in preparation of a somber remembrance of the fifth anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day - 280 of its citizens awoke suddenly in a hotel already burning wildly out of control.

For the next 150 minutes, they would fight their own war, mostly against their surging, unrelenting fear. Like the “unsinkable” Titanic, Atlanta’s Winecoff Hotel had been billed as “fireproof.” And it was. The hotel itself did not burn. Its guests did. Or they died on the sidewalk of Peachtree Street, or in silent clusters, huddled together for courage against the suffocating smoke.

It was the worst hotel fire ever. Anywhere. The fact that today it is still the worst hotel fire in American history (and second worst in the world) is testament to its horror.

One hundred and nineteen people died. The rest survived by extraordinary heroism or blind luck. This is their story - all of them, the dead and the lucky - a story of ordinary lives colliding with catastrophe, a moment that remains frozen in time.

It is also the story of a botched investigation.