By Susan Morse and Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, February 16, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Photo by Andrew Moore]
HAMPTON BEACH -- Firefighters knocked down a blaze that destroyed five summer cottages and damaged four other homes on the block in blizzard conditions Wednesday afternoon.
Five unoccupied cottages at the corner of Dover and River streets, near Hampton Beach State Park, were burned beyond repair. Four other structures surrounding the flaming buildings received fire damage.
Gusting winds quickly spread the flames threatening to take out the entire block.
"I actually couldn't believe we were able to stop it when we did," Hampton Fire Chief Hank Lipe said. "We were not optimistic that we would be able to hold it for a while. It was the continuing perseverance of the firefighters that made the difference."
No residents were injured but a rookie firefighter dislocated his shoulder while fighting the blaze.
Lipe said they evacuated an elderly couple, Doris and William Fitzgerald, and their pet ferret from their nearby year-round home as a precaution. The couple returned on Thursday to their home, which is just a single structure away from the devastation. It was spared damage.
The cause of the fire was listed as "undetermined," according to Hampton Fire Inspector Jeffrey LeDuc.
LeDuc said the fire started in the kitchen of the cottage on 30 River Avenue.
And while no one was living there at the time of the fire, the residence still had gas and electricity on, LeDuc said.
"A fire is labeled undetermined when you can't identify the cause as either natural, accidental or arson," LeDuc said. "There was significant damage and most of the evidence was destroyed."
Catherine "Cappy" Crowley, whose electricity had gone out, said she spotted the flames while looking for police on their way to assist a neighboring elderly couple, also without power. She called it in at 2:42 p.m.
"I saw a flash in the back and saw the flames go up," she said.
By the time Hampton firefighters arrived at least one house was engulfed, Lipe said.
Firefighters from North Hampton, Seabrook, Exeter and Portsmouth and Amesbury and Newburyport, Mass., worked in blustery snow and 35 mph wind conditions to put out the flames.
Firefighters could only use hand lines to battle the blaze because of the heavy winds. They positioned themselves in the alleys between the houses for protection from the gusts.
"They did a remarkable job considering the elements we had," Lipe said.
Many roads on the beach on Wednesday afternoon became impassable or partially blocked because of drifting snow and cars stuck on the roads.
Firefighters brought the blaze under control around 4:30 p.m., but remained on scene overnight to monitor hot spots and ensure the fire did not reignite.
Three of the five destroyed cottages are owned by the Guthrie family of North Andover, Mass., under Nana Beach Realty in Hampton.
Another building was owned by Jim and Nancy Walsh.
The Guthrie family purchased the single-family rental units six years ago. Andrew Guthrie, who was in Boston at the time of the fire, came to see the destruction Thursday morning.
"It has just been a lot of tears," Guthrie said. "This was my daughter's college education fund."
Guthrie was told the fire originated from one of his cottages, but he is awaiting a report from the fire inspector.
"I just feel so bad for everybody," Guthrie said.
Lipe compared the blaze to the one that destroyed The Old Salt Restaurant and other buildings on Ocean Boulevard in 1999.
The Old Salt fire was Lipe's first fire with the department when he started here eight years ago.
"This wasn't The Old Salt," Lipe said, "but it's a close second."