Fire Chief Investigated for Deadly Arson That Killed 10 At Holiday Inn

Did he start the fire?

It was horrific! A Holiday Inn packed with tourists, suddenly consumed in flames. Ten people were killed that night in 1978. Dozens more were injured in the fire, which was officially declared an act of arson.

It started with an urgent radio call to the Greece, NY Fire Department. The dispatcher heard, "Send me a full assignment at the Holiday Inn.  I have a code 5.  People trapped."

The man making that call was a young fire lieutenant named Harold "Bud" Phillips, who said he was driving by when he spotted the hotel in flames at 2:30 that morning.

"When I first arrived I saw flames coming out of the west side of the building," Phillips told reporters at the scene.

But some investigators immediately expressed doubts about Phillips' story. They said he couldn't have seen the flames from where he was driving by. And he'd been in that hotel conducting an inspection just weeks before. Could Phillips have been a classic firebug, who started the inferno just to call it in and be a hero?

There's a restaurant now where the Holiday Inn burned down 36 years ago. For those who believe it was an arson fire the question remains, when will the killer be caught?

Todd Baxter is the town's former police chief. He told INSIDE EDITION, "Whoever started this fire had to be doing it with the idea that they're going to kill multiple people. There's no doubt in my mind."

"This person is, if you will, a homicidal maniac. I definitely think this is  a case that would be worthy of a death penalty. You murdered ten people," said Baxter.

Thirty-six years later, the case remains unsolved. But the investigation is heating up again, and  there's still reportedly only one suspect. None other than Harold 'Bud' Phillips. He's now 66 years old.  And guess what? He's the fire chief!   

INSIDE EDITION's Lisa Guerrero tracked down Phillips and said, "I'd like to talk to you about the Holiday Inn fire, sir."

"I'm not going to talk about it," replied Phillips.

"Can you talk please about what it's like to be a person of interest in this case?" asked Guerrero.   

"It is not good," said Phillips.

Guerrero asked, "Can you tell us whether or not you started that fire, sir?"

"I did not," he answered.

Phillips may be the fire chief, but he is not cooperating with the investigation.   

"You're a fire chief. Why would you not be talking to the police?" asked Guerrero.

"Because they executed a search warrant on our building without working with us so..." said Phillips.
Guerrero asked, "But don't you want to know who started the fire? You're the fire chief."

"Right. And I'll let the police do their job," he said.

Philips says he believes the fire was an accident, not arson. Meanwhile, the local prosecutor confirms they have zeroed in on one suspect, whom she hasn't named. But she says that in all likelyhood, she will present the evidence to a grand jury for a possible indictment.