Rocket malfunction leads to explosion and small fire in hotel room

Insulation and ceiling materials littered a hotel room at the Comfort Inn near Alamosa after a malfunction of a model rocket here for a launching event southwest of town. Courtesy photo

ALAMOSA — In what appears to have been an accident, a rocket launcher malfunctioned which led to an explosion and fire in a room at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Alamosa on Saturday night, causing damage to the room.

According to Paul Duarte, Alamosa Fire Department Deputy Chief who was on duty, a guest at the Inn was “part of the festivities” being held near Alamosa over the weekend.

“There was a malfunction with the mother board in the rocket which caused the motor to catch on fire,” Duarte says, “and an explosion that created enough pressure in the room to dislodge the drywall and panels in the ceiling to fall.”

Although there was potential for more significant damage and injury to the man in the room and others, especially if the rocket had launched, Duarte says firefighters on scene extinguished the fire just using a fire extinguisher. There was also significant smoke and dust from the insulation, but the crew on site was able to ventilate the room by opening the windows.

The risk continued as firefighters had to then disarm the rocket, which was 4 feet tall and 8 inches across and still capable of igniting. They were able to do that without incident.

Duarte said that the individual who was handling the rocket when the malfunction occurred was transported to the hospital but, aside from probably being pretty shaken by the event, Duarte didn’t believe the individual sustained any serious injuries.

“No other guests were injured,” he says, “but were definitely inconvenienced.”

The Comfort Inn front desk clerk on duty Monday morning was not present when the incident took place but was notified at 9:39 p.m. Saturday night, shortly after the rocket malfunctioned. She said the Alamosa Fire Department were immediately on the scene after a guest staying at the hotel was “doing something” with the rocket launcher when the motor caught on fire.

She said all hotel guests and staff were evacuated from the building but were allowed to re-enter the building after “about an hour.”

The clerk also stated that there was damage to the room with “a big chunk” of the ceiling missing and “ash covering everything in the room,” but the damage was limited to the room where the incident occurred with no additional damage or smell of smoke lingering in any of the rooms, suites or lobby.

As of Monday morning, the incident was being viewed as an accident with no indication that charges of any kind will be filed. Whether or not the guest who was involved in the incident will be required to pay for damages was not known.

“It’s a good thing that it only affected that room,” the clerk told the Valley Courier, “because all of the other hotels in the city were booked up and people would have had nowhere else to go.”

Rocketry enthusiasts from across the West and beyond flocked to the San Luis Valley for the National Sport Launch West three-day model rocketry event that was held Saturday through Monday. The event site was located southwest of Alamosa and hosted by the San Luis Valley Rocketeers.