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{The 1950 Hampton Beach Conflagration}

The Hampton Union & Rockingham County Gazette

Thursday, July 20, 1950

From all the evidence, both conspicuous and obscure, the loss of $350,000 worth of property at Hampton Beach last Friday (July 14, 1950) was a needless and criminal waste.

Contributing factors in the greatest fire loss of Hampton's history were (1) lack of a proper building code, (2) laxness of property owners in adopting primary safety measures, and (3) lack of an adequate water supply. Of the three, the latter was the most obvious to all who were at the scene and can properly be blamed for the spread of a small fire that should have been extinguished without a great loss.

Mute testimony that the hydrant system at the beach furnished little water can be seen in the above picture taken on Ocean Boulevard during the height of the fire with the street filled with hose -- and all flat.

Twelve fire departments answered Hampton's call for help, representing hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers money, but they might as well have stayed in the engine house for, primarily, it takes water to put out fires.

The town of Hampton annually appropriates $30,500 for fire department expenses, and the town and precinct together own fire fighting equipment worth nearly $100,000, but without water it is useless.

The new salt water system will, of course, offer the best protection available to the center of the beach, but what about the rest of the beach? What about the town?

Ponder, if you will, the consequences if a fire had broken out in the town section, while the beach was drawing what little water was available. This is clearly a matter which concerns every property owner in the town of Hampton and it is time that some concerted action was taken.

For nearly two decades there has been the same complaint about an adequate water supply for the beach area and nothing has come of it but hearings and more hearings. Water for fire fighting purposes is only half of the story. The question of health and sanitation at New Hampshire's largest recreational center is also important in view of the preponderant evidence that bathroom facilities about the second floor are useless on crowded weekends.

Many people are of the opinion that the water company should be made to pay for the damages in excess of the uninsured loss. We doubt if a public utility could be held legally responsible for such a loss but it certainly is morally responsible.

Fixing the direct blame on the lack of water, however, does not exculpate the citizens for not adopting suitable building ordinances long before this date. The disastrous fire of 1915 and 1921 should have afforded some evidence of the need, but nothing was ever done.

The latent possibilities for Friday's disaster have been present for many years. They are still present today.

Along with a satisfactory solution to the water supply problem, must come the adoption of a building code and the enforcement of common sense safety rules by the building inspector. Only then will Hampton Beach be spared another disastrous fire.

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