Burned Hampton Beach landmark site to be seen

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By Leslie Modica

Foster's Daily Democrat, March 1, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Foster's Daily Democrat]

Part of a support beam rests on the wreckage of Thursday night's Hampton Beach fire.
[Monika O'Clair/Democrat photo]

HAMPTON -- When Peggy Brooks lived on Hampton Beach years ago, her family had an after-school tradition of going straight from the bus stop to the candy store.

"The fudge," she said, "that was the best."

Brooks was part of a flood of locals and summer vacationers that crowded at Hampton Beach this weekend to mourn the loss of some of the beach's most iconic businesses following the wind-swept Thursday night fire that leveled an entire block.

"It's been like a summer day down here," Fire Prevention Office Jon True said, standing in front of a line of cars that stretched down Ocean Boulevard, which is usually near vacant during the winter.

While most passersby snapped photographs from their car windows, dozens more said personal goodbyes as they strolled down the strip Sunday afternoon, the smell of charred wood still fresh in the air.

"The memories," Brooks said. "I just keep saying, 'All the memories.'"

Now living in Haverhill, Mass., Brooks and her friend Donna Wallace both traveled up to Hampton Sunday to see firsthand the damage they had been hearing about all weekend.

"You can't help but wonder, 'Will it ever come back?'" Wallace said.

The women said they began coming to Hampton Beach when they were children in the 1950s and their families would take them on vacation from Massachusetts.

Walking past the rubble Sunday afternoon, they said they hoped the block would be restored back to the charm that draws so many visitors from around New England every summer.

Bob Albright and his 9-year-old daughter Emily, who came from Seabrook to see the devastation Sunday, repeated the silver lining that has been echoed by all those who know how differently things could have turned out if the fire would have struck during the peak season.

"I'm just glad nobody was hurt," Emily said.

Still, seeing beachside landmarks like the Surf Motel, Mrs. Mitchell's souvenir shop and the Happy Hampton Arcade completely burned to the ground is a humbling scene, Bob Albright said.

"It puts things in perspective," he said as he took photographs of the remains of the buildings. "I just think it's devastating."

True, who was investigating the fire throughout the weekend, said he doesn't expect to know a cause until the end of the week as the department continues to sift through numerous witness interviews.

He added that he expects the total damage to top $6 million.

Passersby stop to take photographs and witness the aftermath of Thursday night's Hampton Beach fire.
[Monika O'Clair/Democrat photo]

A vending machine remains from the wreckage after the fire Thursday night at Hampton Beach.
[Monika O'Clair/Democrat photo]

Passersby stop to take photographs and witness the aftermath of Thursday night's Hampton Beach fire.
[Monika O'Clair/Democrat photo]

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