A fire broke out at the Budget Inn around 8 p.m. Thursday night causing evacuations and traffic backups on Highways 87 and 260. The motel, located on the Beeline Highway and West Bonita Street, was heavily damaged by the fire and smoke, but no one was injured, according to Payson Fire Battalion Chief Tom Barker.
"Everyone was able to get out and we checked all the rooms," Barker said. "Lives come first and then we worry about the fire."
Payson Fire Marshal Mike Winters said the cause of the blaze is still under investigation.
Payson police, with assistance from the Department of Public Safety and the Gila County Sheriff's Office, were forced to shut down the Beeline Highway to allow emergency vehicles to get to the scene and to keep residents and travelers from getting too close to the fire.
According to Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi, firefighters were concerned about live electrical wires hanging above the fire. The wires were dangerously close to a metal fence that runs along the alley behind the motel. Onlookers were kept away from the area.
"We were worried that the fence would become electrified," deMasi said. "Fortunately, that didn't happen."
Barker said APS personnel were on the scene immediately.
Juan Perez, who lives behind the motel, reported the smoke to the manager who was unaware that the building was on fire.
"I was riding my bike and taking a short cut through the motel parking lot on my way to Walgreens," Perez said. "I looked up and I saw flames coming out of the roof. I went to the office and I had to bang on the counter over and over to get the manager's attention. He was watching TV."
Perez said by the time the manager came out of the office to see if the motel was indeed on fire, the flames were "way up in the air."
Mary Milligan, her children and three young grandchildren, were staying in a room next to where the fire appears to have started.
"We were coming up here (from Phoenix) to go camping but all the sites were full. We got here too late," Milligan said.
"A man came and started pounding on the door and said, ‘Get out. Get out. Get the babies out.'"