Unitil sued, blamed for blaze that destroyed Hampton Beach block
Hampton Union, March 27, 2013
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON — The insurer for an oceanfront retailer is suing Unitil Energy Systems, claiming a Feb. 26, 2010, blaze that destroyed a block of businesses, was sparked by an electrical glitch due to Unitil's negligence.
The Rockingham Superior Court lawsuit was filed by Salem attorney Jeffrey Schreiber, who claims a specific set of electrical circumstances caused the massive fire. But Hampton's fire chief, and the state fire marshal's office, say the cause of the beach blaze remains unknown.
Schreiber's lawsuit seeks reimbursement of $32,749 that was paid by insurer Lloyd's London to the retailer, Decalomania, of 241-243 Ocean Blvd. According to the suit, Decalomania sold clothing and “beach wear” at the “top portion” of that address, where water pumped during firefighting efforts damaged Decalomania's assets.
Lloyd's paid the $32,749 claim to Decalomania and is now subrogated to “the rights” of that financial damage, according to the lawsuit.
The two-count suit alleges that prior to the fire, an electrical “fault” occurred in a line owned, operated and maintained by Unitil. The fault caused an electrical conduit, that was attached to the Surf Hotel, to heat up and spark the fire, the suit alleges.
Also sometime prior to the fire, the suit alleges, Unitil “altered and modified” the service line in the immediate area, “leaving a utility pole inadequately secured and/or braced.” Under high winds that blew the morning of the massive fire, the pole swayed “excessively,” causing the electrical fault and triggering the fire, the insurer alleges.
Unitil was reckless and breached its duty to use reasonable care when maintaining the electrical line, the insurer alleges in its civil suit. The power provider also had exclusive control over the service lines and poles, while Decalomania did not cause or contribute to the fire, the suit alleges.
Unitil spokesman Alec O'Meara said Unitil is aware of the lawsuit, is reviewing it and “will be responding in the courts.”
Hampton Fire Chief Chris Silver said his investigation into the cause of the massive fire remains inconclusive.
“We know the area of origin, that was clear,” he said, while describing that area as the rear underside of the Surf Hotel.
A spokesperson at the New Hampshire Fire Marshal's office said Wednesday the cause of the fire remains classified as “undetermined” in that office as well.
Lloyds is asking the Superior Court for a jury trial and for Unitil to reimburse the amount paid to Decalomania, as well as for costs and damages.
According to fire officials, flames first broke out before midnight on Feb. 25, 2010 when the block of five, wood-frame buildings — including the Happy Hampton Arcade and Mrs. Mitchell's — burned until the early morning hours of Feb. 26, 2010. All five of those buildings were declared a total loss, while a dozen other buildings were fire damaged.
Silver said at the time that 60 mph winds from a nor'easter blowing through the area, which knocked down trees and wires, fueled the flames.
The Hampton fire chief said Wednesday that he was unaware of any other related lawsuits.