By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, February 26, 2010
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[view photo gallery below -- AP Photo/Cheryl Senter]
HAMPTON -- A fire fueled by heavy winds quickly spread from the Surf Motel to adjacent buildings and destroyed a block of businesses before it was brought under control early Friday morning.
The glow from the flames could be seen from miles away, a witness said.
The ferocious blaze started late Thursday or early Friday at the three-story Surf Hotel in Hampton, Fire Capt. David Lang said. The block of five wood-frame buildings, including the Happy Hampton arcade and Mrs. Mitchell's, quickly caught fire.
Most of the businesses in the area, including the Surf Hotel, are open only in the summer, and nobody was in any of the businesses, according to fire department officials, and person living above the Happy Hampton arcade evacuated safely.
Nearly a dozen nearby structures suffered fire-related damage.
The weather at the time was rainy and windy because of a storm moving up the Atlantic coast, which helped to fan the flames, Lang said.
The National Weather Service said the region recorded its strongest wind gust of the storm at about the same time the fire was reported — a 68 mph reading, just below hurricane force of 74 mph, at Pease Airport in Portsmouth.
The bad weather stretched the resources of the fire department, which had sent teams and equipment to several weather-related emergencies, such as fallen trees and transformer fires, before the hotel blaze was reported at 12:05 a.m. Friday and had to scramble to respond, Lang said. Surrounding communities also were taxed and couldn't send help right away. Firefighters in Massachusetts and Maine were called in.
Paul Sullivan, a retired police officer who lives in the center of town about 3 miles from the hotel, said he could see the fire from his front window.
"I saw a growing glow, getting brighter and brighter by the moment," Sullivan said by telephone.
It took firefighters several hours before they could put out the fire while battling the winds and the cold, but by then the buildings couldn't be salvaged, Lang said.
"They're pretty much gone," he said.
White smoke was billowing from the charred rubble Friday morning as firefighters continued to douse it with water. One building looked as if it had collapsed, and wood and loose insulation poked through the smoldering debris.
"Without the extrordinary efforts of the firefighters, with these weather conditions it could have certainly extended beyond the one block," according to Fire Chief Chris Silver. "While this is devatating for the beach and the community I'm thankful that there were no firefighters or civilians hurt," he said.
Most of the buildings along Ocean Boulevard are old and very close together, with no firestops in between.
Assistance came from about 40 departments including a task force from the Lakes Region. In all, approximately 160 firefighters assisted, according to Silver.
The fire was declared under control at 4:30 a.m. and crews remained on scene Friday morning extinguishing hot spots.
The Red Cross has opened an emergency shelter at Winnacunnet High School.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.