NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. — The Harborside Inn, a historic Block Island mainstay that was devastated by a fire this weekend, will likely be torn down by the end of the week.
“The property is a total loss,” State Fire Marshal Timothy McLaughlin told the Globe on Monday. He said the cause of the fire that destroyed the inn remains under investigation. “My opinion? It is a life safety issue. But when they [tear the building down] will be up to local officials.”
It’s unclear when the hotel might be leveled. Anthony Rodriguez, the town’s building inspector, did not respond to multiple requests for information on Monday.
The state fire marshal’s office sent crews of investigators to evaluate the building’s condition Monday morning. Around 5:30 p.m., two officials from the New Shoreham building department hung red signs around the exterior of the hotel, which remains roped off, that deemed the property unsafe. The two unidentified men declined to speak to a Globe reporter.
The “entire structure is compromised due to fire...” read the signs. “Basement is flooded and presents a separate water hazard.”
No one was injured in the blaze, which was reported to firefighters a few minutes before 11:30 p.m. on Friday.
“We’re flying blind right now. This is obviously a lot, and very overwhelming,” said Vaux Finnimore, a partner at Block Island Reservations, which has operated the Harborside since 2002. “Details of what is going on right now and what a rebuild will look like? It’s all in the beginning stages.
“Each day, each hour, we know a little more,” said Vaux Finnimore, who owns the business with her ex-husband, Michael Finnimore.
Michael Finnimore repeatedly declined to comment to the Globe while working around the property on Monday evening. Over the weekend, in a brief phone interview with a Globe reporter, Finnimore called the fire “pretty devastating.”
The inn, situated in a Victorian-era home constructed in 1879 as The Pequot House, has been welcoming visitors to Block Island for more than a century. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The inn’s top floor is charred with large sections burnt away. Windows that once framed dramatic ocean views are blown out, and soot covers the hotel’s white painted exterior. The roof collapsed as the fire’s blaze ripped through the property. A charcoal smell still lingered around the inn Monday night.
Crews responded to an alarm at the hotel on Friday night and found a fire in the hotel’s first-floor kitchen, and within 20 minutes, a second alarm was struck, which brought mutual aid to the island. The fire quickly spread from the first floor to the inn’s attic, and the roof’s design made it more difficult to reach the flames, North Kingstown Fire Chief Scott Ketelle said.
The hotel roof caved in around 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, and first responders were able to put the fire out late Saturday morning.
EMTs at Block Island Volunteer Fire and Rescue told the Globe that the response was an “all-hands-on-deck” event that included close to 60 island firefighters and 18 paramedics.
Paramedic Gary Ryan said paramedics provided assistance, including laying hoses for firefighters, who worked to keep the fire from spreading for at least an hour until assistance could arrive from the mainland via two ferries.
Ryan said that the original call was “called out as not being a really big deal.”
Ryan said, “We heard ‘it’s in the kitchen, it’s contained.’”
But not long after the first call, the radio began to buzz with concern.
”I think the scariest part was just as you listened to the radio, it escalated,” EMT Captain Tracy Fredericks said. “My husband works for the power company and we just jumped in the car together.”
Friday night’s winds were blowing toward the harbor, which was the best weather scenario for firefighters because it blew the flames away from other vulnerable structures, officials said.
For the businesses that lease retail space at the inn, the fire’s impact has been tragic.
Jenn Brady, a local zoning official who has owned Wild Flowers Boutique inside the hotel for 14 years, said she has not been able to get back inside her shop. As of Monday morning, she said she could not estimate the value of her merchandise locked inside the building, but said her staff had just restocked product on Thursday.
“I have three kids. Both of my daughters have worked in that store... That store is like having another child,” said Brady. “It’s devastating. I don’t even know how we’ll rebuild.”
Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos hosted a meeting with other state officials Monday afternoon at the New Shoreham Town Hall to provide assistance to small businesses impacted by the fire. Another meeting for business owners is scheduled for Thursday.
“I personally have no idea what kind of programs they can make available, but want you to at least have the opportunity to explore and understand remedies right from the source,” Block Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Crawford wrote in an email to business owners who lease from the inn, which was obtained by the Globe.
A state of emergency was issued by the town over the weekend due to limited water and power supply, and island residents were urged to conserve water. Eli’s Restaurant and other neighboring businesses had perishable items ruined after the town’s power was cut because of the fire.
The US Coast Guard assisted getting fire crews from the mainland to Block Island, including fire engines and trucks. The Marine Task Force sent four boats to assist with the limited water supply, and Interstate Navigation, which runs the Block Island Ferry, transported emergency personnel. The ferry company reopened to day trippers on Sunday.
The Block Island School, which is used as the town’s emergency shelter, was opened to Harborside Inn guests who were displaced.
Block Island Reservations owns and operates several rental properties throughout the island. Its central office is located at the inn, where cleaning supplies and inventory were damaged. Michael Finnimore had to cancel and refund reservations for all of its properties through Aug. 24.
The state conducted a full fire inspection on April 25 to evaluate sprinkler, fire alarm, and hood ansul systems that are designed to capture cooking fumes in kitchens, and the building was in “full compliance,” said McLaughlin, the state fire marshal.
“I feel bad for the tenants of the property,” Finnimore told the Globe in an interview over the weekend. “We can rebuild, but for the people that have leased property, been in the retail stores for 20-plus years... it’s a lot to take in.”
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