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Family says granddaughter saved their lives when she smelled smoke at the Hilton Garden Inn

Posted at 8:43 PM, Feb 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-20 21:43:04-05

KILLEEN, TX — While many in Central Texas were seeking shelter from their own homes due to lack of power, electricity and water— hotels began to fill up.

That was the case at the Hilton Garden Inn on Curry Dr. in Killeen. Officials say all 102 hotel rooms were booked on Friday night.

One family staying there was Katalyna Ibanez-Beltran and her “nana and papa.”

When a fire engulfed the hotel’s roof and fourth floor, the 7-year-old’s grandparent’s believed the difference between their life and death was her elementary school’s practice of fire drills.

“The first time when I smelled [smoke,] I didn’t really care,” Katalyna said. “But then the second time when I smelled it, I thought it was fire, so I told papa and nana.”

The trio was staying at the hotel after surviving days in their powerless and cold Nolanville home.

“We got room 407, on the fourth floor,” James Fryer, her grandfather explained. “We got to the room, it was a real nice room, the bad thing about it is that the water wasn't working because of broken pipes.”

Fire officials told 25 News that they have a running list of buildings in our area with broken and or frozen pipes and places with sprinkler systems turned off. It turns out the hotel was not on that list.

“We had assumed that they had not shut the sprinkler system down,” Fire Chief James Kubinski with the Killeen Fire Department said. “But again, with as many sprinkler system breaks as we had, we were almost impossible to know every single one with 100% accuracy.”

The department said it was a problem that hindered the firefighting effort, but with the help from 6 other agencies and 17 pieces of equipment, or apparatus, officials called the fire under control after midnight on Saturday.

”We had water to put on the fire but we did have low pressure, so we did plan accordingly and made sure that we got those resources here,” Kubinski said. “As well as tankers from the Southern Bell fire department and two tankers from Fort Hood.”

It was an outstanding effort from every first responder and family member, one that James Fryer still gets emotional thinking about.

“I’m very proud of [my wife and granddaughter] both and like I said, the first responders? My hats off, all the way.”

Officials say they treated one person on the scene for minor injuries but they were released. They also explained that two occupants took themselves to a nearby hospital to be evaluated for smoke inhalation.