Guests scramble from third- to second-floor decks to escape N.H. resort fire

Several Red Jacket Mountain View Resort guests and two firefighters needed medical attention following the incident

Jon Phelps
The New Hampshire Union Leader

NORTH CONWAY, N.H. — The massive wind-driven fire that destroyed the south wing of the Red Jacket Mountain View Resort in North Conway on Saturday started in the part of the building that did not have sprinklers.

The south wing of the popular hotel, with about 75 rooms, was built in the 1970s before sprinklers were required, North Conway Fire Chief Pat Preece said at a press conference Sunday.

The fire is not considered suspicious, said state Fire Marshal Sean Toomey.

All 155 guests made it out of the building, but several needed medical attention, according to Preece.

"Initial reports were of heavy fire blowing from the south wing, third and second-floor area of the building," Preece said. "As we responded to the call, we got updated that civilians were trying to escape from the third floor of the building by quote, 'jumping.'"

He said the trapped guests were able to lower themselves onto second-floor decks and safely exit the building.

Structurally the lobby portion of the building is sound but will need a complete overhaul, according to Preece. A sprinkler system in that portion of the building was activated.

Challenges fighting the Saturday fire

Firefighters arrived just after 2:45 p.m. on Saturday.

By 3:30 p.m., the south wing was engulfed in flames, and by 5 p.m. the fire had spread toward the center lobby.

"The fire was progressing quickly due to the high gusts of winds that were blowing through pushing it through the building," the chief said Sunday.

Besides the wind, firefighters faced several other challenges, including the access to the front of the building being limited because of access to water.

"That has to do with how the building was constructed from the fire being on the exterior of the building and rolling up over and the wind fueling it pushing it right through there, Preece said.

"The fire stops did slow it down a little bit, but with the wind gusts we were having yesterday you wouldn't even think they were there, but it definitely did help.

Preece said fire alarms were working on arrival but a circuit was likely burned through at some point.

A total of 28 towns and cities helped attack the blaze. Two firefighters were treated at Memorial Hospital for heat-related exhaustion and were released.

Toomey said the investigation is active and ongoing. The cause and origin of the fire is going to be based on witness statements. The office is asking any witnesses with information to call.

"At first we want to pinpoint where it started and if we can what started it," he said.

"Because of the extent of damage that is going to be difficult and with the integration we rely on what people tell us."

The south wing needed to be torn down as part of the effort to knock down a massive wind-driven fire.

Coming to the aid of the guests

The hotel will remain closed for the foreseeable future, according to Red Jacket Managing Director Justin Grimes.

"We are working with our guests and our staff to make sure that their needs are met," he said.

He said the company is "truly humbled by the spirit of giving" in the community.

"Hotel and rental owners have come to the aid of our guests and our staff by providing them with a place to stay, a warm meal, clothing and so many other items we take for granted," Grimes said. Church groups and residents assisted with the efforts, he said.

The hotel will reach out to guests who have made future reservations.

Beth Kittredge of Concord was visiting North Conway when she saw fire trucks and ambulances screaming toward the hotel, and saw dark smoke rising through the air.

"Everyone had evacuated," Kittredge said. "Some of the guests were screaming they needed to get their dogs out. Just a heartbreaking sight to see."

Social media posts documented the fire, and many expressed sadness at the damage to the well-loved resort.

Some of the guests have lost everything, including their only car keys.

"Red Jacket is doing a fabulous job," Preece said. "They've made arrangements with tow companies, they've made arrangements with locksmiths. They've taken care of their guests."

Guests in the north wing were able to get all their belongings. Preece thanked the community for its outpouring of support.

The hotel is home to the Kahuna Laguna Indoor Water Park.

The total assessed value of the property is $11,922,900, according to town assessor records.

The Red Jacket resort replaced the Birchmont Inn that burned on the site in 1970, according to the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce.

"While the full extent of the damage is unknown at this time we are hopeful they, too, will be able to rebuild," the chamber wrote in an email.

The state Fire Marshal's office asked anyone with information about the fire to contact 603-223-4289.

Union Leader Reporter Josie Albertson-Grove contributed to this report.


(c)2022 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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