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Mutual-aid FDs respond by ferry to R.I. hotel blaze

Firefighters were ferried over to Rhode Island’s Block Island for a fire in a large, historic hotel


Kingston Fire District/Facebook

By David Cifarelli

NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. — The smallest town in the smallest state in the country will most likely have to rebuild one of its most iconic hotels after a massive fire destroyed the building and impacted several businesses over the weekend.

The town of New Shoreham on Block Island may have reopened to visitors on Sunday, Aug. 20, but the damage from a fire at the historic Harborside Inn the night before was evident both physically and emotionally.

“The Block Island community will feel the loss of one of New Shoreham’s most visible historic structures, a welcoming site to visitors and locals alike for nearly two centuries,” the Block Island Historical Society said on Facebook.

“The Block Island Historical Society would like to thank our outstanding volunteer fire department and the mutual aid companies who contained the fire,” the society continued. “We are grateful for your hard work and dedication to protecting this extraordinary island and its historic structures.”

The fire, which is believed to have started in the kitchen, broke out around 11:30 p.m. on Friday, Block Island Fire Chief Chris Hobe told WJAR-TV. Crews saw heavy smoke coming from the hotel and struck a second alarm. The fire even prompted a state of emergency on the island, the outlet added.

Several fire departments from the mainland came to help, including Charlestown, Dunn’s Corners, Kingston, Jamestown, Portsmouth, Narragansett and Westerly.

Firefighters were still putting out hotspots throughout the day Saturday, according to Facebook posts from several of the departments. No one was injured and guests staying at the hotel were evacuated to the Block Island School, the Block Island Times reported.

State Fire Marshal Timothy McLaughlin confirmed to MassLive on Monday that the building was a total loss, and that the town building inspector and town administrator will determine when the building will be torn down. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“We are saddened by last night’s fire at the Harborside Inn...many of us started our Block island careers there with so many special memories,” the National Hotel wrote on Facebook Saturday. “We are so grateful to the amazing Block Island Fire & Rescue crew, the firefighters that came from the mainland, the Block Island Ferry for traveling in the middle of the night to bring reinforcements and to everyone who has reach out to share their concern.”

The hotel’s restaurant was one of many businesses that shut down Saturday as the Block Island was closed to visitors and crews assessed damage from the fire. The fire had a specific impact on The Harbor Grill, which is in the same building as the Harborside Inn. The restaurant said it will not reopen until the end of the season.

“We do apologize if we did not reach out to any reservations and we are sorry for the inconvenience,” the restaurant said on Facebook. “We are very grateful to all the firefighters, who were there all last night trying to stop the fire and did their absolutely best and also all Block Island community and volunteers helping with everything they can. Thank you all and hope we will see our beloved place rebuild soon.”

Raphael Campbell, an employee at the restaurant, started a GoFundMe to support those who lost their jobs because of the fire. People interested in donating can click here.

Several more businesses in the immediate area were closed throughout the weekend including Eli’s Restaurant, The Ice Cream Place and Block Island Boat Tours. Most have since reopened.

The town of New Shoreham posted a message on its website saying that demolition and cleanup at the Harborside Inn is expected in the near future. The town is asking residents to avoid the area as much as possible.

State officials were also said to be on the island Monday to “discuss impacts of this event on people and businesses and what tools the state and federal governments can bring to bear to help.”

McLaughlin said these tools will most likely come through the Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.

“There will be a lot going on in town over the next several weeks as we all work to recover, and we ask for your patience,” the town wrote in its message. “We will be providing updates as necessary on every platform available to us.”

Meanwhile, people are encouraged to make donations to the Block Island Fire Department. People can donate by clicking here.

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC.
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