A fire shooting flames 20 feet high swept through a hotel before dawn yesterday, forcing guests to jump from second-story windows. Five persons were killed and 34 were injured, officials said.

District Fire Chief Jim Noah said the fire that apparently began in rolls of carpeting about 3:20 a.m. killed four men and one woman and forced about 150 guests to flee the two-story Ramada Inn Central on the city's east side.

Many were awakened by people blowing car horns because the hotel alarm system failed.

"We had a bunch of people trapped, and they had to jump from the second floor," Noah said. "We had one woman taken to a hospital with a broken ankle. I think from a life-hazard point, this is the worst fire I've seen."

Guests pushed through thick smoke and broken windows to jump to safety, some tossing mattresses to the ground. Others climbed down fire department ladders.

An alarm system in the hotel's main building did not go off because its batteries were corroded, Fire Marshal Don Peacock said. He said there was no alarm system in the wing where the fire broke out, adding that there was no requirement for smoke alarms when the hotel was built.