By James Baker
Foster's Daily Democrat Staff Writer
HAMPTON — Fire officials said Monday they have concluded the physical portion of their investigation into last week’s fire at Hampton Beach.
According to Hampton Fire Prevention Officer Scott McDonald, the fire, which destroyed two buildings and partially damaged a third, has been labeled ‘undetermined’ in origin pending further review of the State Fire Marshal’s findings.
More than 200 firefighters from 23 communities responded to the five-alarm blaze, which gutted the Old Salt Eating and Drinking Place and Beach Walk Enterprises, owned by Preston Real Estate.
The Springfield Motor Lodge also sustained severe damage to the roof as well as extensive smoke and water damage in the blaze, which put seven businesses out of operation. Preliminary estimates indicated damages to be as much as $3 million.
When asked if investigators are still considering the possibility the blaze may have started as a result of a discarded cigarette, McDonald said he could not comment while the matter is still being investigated.
State Fire Marshal Don Bliss said all possibilities remain open, but that no possibilities have been officially ruled out.
Bliss added that while the physical aspect of searching for clues finished up Friday, investigators are still in the process of interviewing witnesses to the fire.
Bliss asked that anyone with information about the fire to call the Hampton Fire Department or (800) 400-3526, a recently installed 24-hour hot line.
Also, Hampton Building Inspector Dan Vincent said Monday no official decision has been made to raze the three buildings.
"The Old Salt and Beach Walk without doubt should be taken down. There’s not enough information about the motel yet to make that determination," Vincent said.
Vincent said the final determination would probably be his, but that he would be seeking input from a structural engineer before making a decision. Vincent said no timetable has been set for bringing an engineer to the scene.
Meanwhile, owners of the Old Salt Eating and Drinking Place are already in the process of looking for a new location for their establishment in an effort to get it up and running as soon as possible.
Neither owner Michael Higgins nor other family members could not be reached for comment Monday, but Hampton Beach Chamber President Glen French confirmed that Higgins held a meeting Monday with his employees and is currently looking into four possible alternative sites.