Motel Guests Evacuated as Fire Hits Spindrift

Return to Table of Contents

By Brendan DuBois

Hampton Union, August 12, 1981

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Investigators are searching for the exact cause of a fire of auspicious origin which damaged the Spindrift Motel early Saturday morning and sent more than 100 guests fleeing.

Firefighters from nine communities battled the four-alarm blaze, which fire officials believed started in a linen storage area in the basement of the 63-room motor inn, located at 180 Kings Highway.

Bartender and night manager Christopher West was one of the first persons to notice the fire, which was reported to the Hampton Fire Dept. at 4:22 a.m. West, along with arriving Hampton policemen and other guests, ran through the building, warning patrons of the fire.

When Hampton firefighters arrived at the scene, flames were billowing out of the basement and some first floor windows of the three-story structure.

Hampton Fire Lt. William Welsh asked for a second alarm at the scene at 4:26 a.m., with a third alarm being struck at 4:58 and a fourth at 5:34.

Deputy Fire Chief Anthony Chouinard arrived at the fire scene from his house a few minutes after the alarm was called.

"When we got there, there was heavy fire coming out of the cellar, traveling upwards to the second and third floors," Chouinard said. "From the color of the smoke, we could tell it was a large fire."

He said the blaze traveled upwards through partitions in the building and through pipe chases - holes that allow pipes to go to one floor from another.

"The largest percentage of fire damage was to the basement, walls. And attic," he said, "but the whole building received mainly smoke and water damage."

More than 100 firefighters from Seabrook, North Hampton, Hampton Falls, Salisbury, Newburyport, Amesbury, Rye, Exeter, and Greenland helped the Hampton firefighters, who had about 40 personnel at the scene.

"It wasn't the equipment that we needed, but the manpower," Chouinard said.

None of the escaping guests received injuries, officials said. Most were taken to the nearby Captain's Quarters Motel and to the Hampton Academy Junior High School.

After the fire was declared under control and extinguished at about 7 a.m., some guests were allowed to return to their rooms to retrieve valuables. Three firefighters were treated for minor injuries. William McQuillan suffered smoke inhalation, while Howard Himmilreich and Robert Thompson were treated for particles in their eyes.

Chouinard said the last Hampton firefighter left the scene at about 1 p.m., after the usual clean-up and salvage work.

"All the firefighters did a tremendous job to keep the fire within the structure," he said. "And our men had about an hour of sleep that night, with a number of walk-in medical aid calls and other things. Our guys were tired even before the fire call came in."

The State Fire Marshall's office was called in on the day of the blaze, and investigator William Sanborn is working on the case, along with Fire Prevention Officer Richard Ballou and Hampton Police Detective George Bateman.

Bateman said Sunday that the blaze was under investigation as a suspicious fire.

Hampton Fire Chief Donald Matheson said Monday that it may take a few weeks for samples taken at the fire scene to come back from the state police lab in Concord.

The Motel, which did not have a sprinkler system, is insured by the Dunfey Family Corp. of Hampton. Chouinard said Monday that he hasn't received a dollar estimate on the fire damage.

According to records at the assessor's office at town hall, the building was valued at about $318,000.

The motel is owned by Alfred and Claire Parrah and Joseph Dineen, and is leased by Mike Danielian.

An organization called the Spindrift Investment Group has had plans to purchase the building and site and construct 37 condominium units.

At last Wednesday's planning board meeting, Danielian introduced David Eaton, a member of the group who submitted a site plan to the board.

Return to Table of Contents