©1999 By The Associated Press
Courtesy of Foster's Daily Democrat
"We’ve lost some wonderful property," Chamber of Commerce President Glen French said.
"We’re all pretty sad, but we’re pretty grateful it didn’t happen in the next couple of weeks. If it had happened on the 4th of July, we could have had some people injured.
"We’ll see what we can do to rebuild."
The buildings are on Ocean Boulevard directly across from the beach, which on a summer weekend attracts tens of thousands of sunbathers. Though not nearly that number is there on a weekday, thousands gathered along the beach to watch the fire.
The fire along the busy ocean road destroyed two business buildings and badly damaged a third Wednesday afternoon before firefighters from about a dozen communities could bring it under control at about 6 p.m. The smoke could be seen for miles and flames shot through the roofs.
Former state Sen. Bob Preston Sr., owner of the Beach Walk Property that was involved, said it was the worst fire he has seen in Hampton since 1975.
"The way this thing moved so quickly, it’s frightening," French said.
The fire destroyed the Springfield Motel, the Old Salt restaurant, Cecile’s Gift Shop, Lexie’s Pizzaria, Haven’s Cafe and six apartments in the Beach Walk building.
The only injuries were to two firefighters. One was treated at a hospital for smoke inhalation and another had a cut hand.
Conditions made it difficult for firefighters, who needed three hours to bring the fire under control.
"With the close proximity of the buildings on the beach and the seabreeze, once you put out one fire, you’ve got another," Hampton Fire Chief Henry Lipe said.
Other buildings in the block were evacuated and traffic was detoured away from the beach.
The fire apparently started in an alley between two of the buildings, but the cause was not known.
Robert King, manager and part owner of Cecile’s, said a man ran in and told him of the fire shortly after 2 p.m. King grabbed a container of water, but "when I came back out, it had engulfed the entire staircase," King said. He and other employes tried in vain to put out the fire with extinguishers and garden hoses and then called 911.
In March, fire officials warned of numerous fire safety violations in area buildings.
Building Inspector Daniel Vincent sent a letter to selectmen saying approximately 80 percent of the town’s rental units, many on the beach, would have difficulty passing.
Town officials at the time said property owners would not get their seasonal occupancy certificates without passing inspection.
But in April, town officials backed off their drive to upgrade fire safety, saying owners need meet only the seven most important of 14 fire safety requirements.