Fire Rips Marina

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By Steve Jusseaume

Hampton Union, Sunday, January 4, 2004

Hampton Deputy Fire Chief Steve Benotti and an investigator look over the damage at the Hampton River Marina after a four-alarm fire broke out Tuesday. [Staff photo by Jackie Ricciardi]

HAMPTON - While an investigation into the cause of a fire at Hampton Harbor this week continues, the cleanup has already begun.

"We're trying to get portable bathrooms down here, portable showers; and a lot of boats have to be moved out so the debris can be removed," said Len Russell, general manager of the marina.

All day Wednesday and Thursday, 25- and 30-foot boats covered in blue plastic tarpaulin, some of the material melted onto the sides of the hulls from the heat of the blaze, were being hauled away from the marina storage building to open dirt lots adjacent to the marina proper.

The three-alarm fire destroyed the 150-foot by 40-foot storage and repair building at Hampton River Marina, 55 Harbor Road, early Tuesday morning, in a blaze that woke neighbors and damaged or destroyed 15 to 20 boats stored in and around the structure.

The two-story wood-frame building, which faced the harbor at the west end of the marina, was leveled. Firefighters from 14 communities responded to the fire, which was called in at 3:55 a.m. Foam was used to douse the blaze.

At the height of the fire, flames pierced the pre-dawn sky, shooting 60 feet into the air.

Hampton Engine No. 3 was first on the scene, arriving at 3:59 a.m., and immediately sounded a second alarm. The third alarm was called at 4:12 a.m.

Witnesses described loud "booms," similar to fireworks, and accompanying flashes of light beginning just before 4 a.m.

"My neighbors woke me up just after 4 a.m. They heard some loud booms; they told me the marina was burning," said Ron Dube, who lives at 35 Harbor Road, about 100 yards from the building. "I looked out the window and saw the flames. The building was engulfed. We're just lucky there was no wind, or it could have spread."

"I saw three little boats catch fire, but none of the larger boats in the yard caught fire," he added.

Dube said fire apparatus arrived only minutes later, but the fire raged on for at least another hour before it was subdued.

The post-and-beam style building that housed the repair shop was built by George Smith in the late 1950s, said Dube. "George built that building by hand. It was pretty strong. It withstood more than a couple storms. It's sad to see it go," he said.

Russell, the marina manager, who lives in Windham, Maine, was at home when the fire broke out, though he usually stays at the marina on Monday nights. "I had family at the house so I wasn't here," he said, estimating that the damage could reach into the millions of dollars.

Portable facilities are being put at the site to accommodate the dozen or more families who live in boats stored at marina boat slips in the harbor, said Russell.

"We still need to take care of these people," he said.

The building itself was reportedly insured for $525,000. Russell said six to eight boats were completely destroyed, and eight to 10 boats were damaged. Some boat owners lost everything, while others were lucky.

Ray Giuffre, who lives in Salem, was one of the lucky ones. His 37-foot boat was in dry dock outside the building. On Wednesday he surveyed the damage, which was confined to burns from flying embers.

"It's just real dirty. I was very fortunate," he said, glancing at another large boat just feet from his that was heavily damaged.

"One boat closer to the building and we could have suffered some real damage," said Giuffre.

A boat-repair company and a restaurant also were destroyed in the fire. Russell said eight people employed at the two businesses are now out of work.

Fire apparatus from Newington, Portsmouth, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Greenland, Newfields, Stratham, Seabrook, North Hampton, as well as from Salisbury and Amesbury in Massachusetts, responded to the fire scene after the second, then the third alarms were sounded. In all, 15 pieces of equipment and 60 firefighters converged at the scene.

A Salvation Army detachment from York, Maine, also responded.

The fire was declared under control at 5:09 a.m. and the recall sounded at 9:26 a.m., according to Hampton fire alarm operator Michael Murrey, who noted that a barn fire in Dover coincided with the Hampton Harbor blaze.

"We had a lot of surrounding towns respond, but we had to do some juggling because of the Dover fire," said Murrey. Several boats were damaged by the fire, he said, adding that the telephone at the Ashworth Avenue fire station was ringing off the hook from people who had boats stored at the facility.

No injuries were reported.

Fire officials remained at the scene all day Tuesday, checking for hot spots. Fire investigators Jon True and Scott MacDonald began an initial investigation into the cause. They described the damage to the building as "heavy."

The state fire marshal's office was also called to the scene and has taken over the investigation. Acting New Hampshire state Fire Marshal J. William Degnan issued a press release Wednesday afternoon saying the cause of the blaze was still under investigation.

"An investigation team has been formed from the state Fire Marshal's Office, Hampton Fire and Police departments. ... (We) are continuing with the investigation to determine the origin and cause of the fire," the statement read. Degnan urged anyone who has information on the blaze to call the state fire investigator's office at (800) 400-3526.


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