The Philadelphia Fire Marshal's Office is investigating a small guest-room fire that broke out Saturday morning at the Omni Hotel on Chestnut Street, just off Independence Mall, and sent several hundred guests into the street, some in robes or trailing suitcases.

One guest, described as a middle-age or elderly man, was found dead in the eighth-floor room where the fire was contained. Reported at 10:18 a.m., the blaze was under control less than 20 minutes later, the Fire Department said.

The cause of death was not clear, but an autopsy was expected, officials said. The victim's identity was being withheld until family could be notified.

The fire was apparently confined to a corner of the room and was big enough to trigger a smoke alarm but too small to activate the sprinkler system, said A.J. Williams, general manager of the hotel. The hotel does not allow smoking in any guest rooms.

"It was a very small area of fire isolated to a very small spot," Williams said.

Many guests took temporary refuge next door at the Bourse at Independence Mall, he said. Others remained outside the hotel until officials allowed them to begin returning about 11 a.m.

The Omni temporarily closed the eighth floor to address smoke and water damage, Williams said. The hotel, although fully booked, was able to move guests to unoccupied rooms, he said.

Witnesses praised the hotel's evacuation process.

"It was very organized. No panic," said Debi Bellino from Glendora, who was at the hotel after attending a wedding in the city Friday night.

Bellino said she was having brunch in the hotel's Azalea restaurant when an announcement was made on a loudspeaker saying fire had been reported.

Contact staff writer Jeff Gelles
at 215-854-2776 or