HAMPTON, N.H. – A fire that started in an unoccupied oceanfront hotel was fanned by winds of near hurricane force and spread to adjacent buildings, engulfing and destroying an entire block of businesses, firefighters said. No injuries were reported.
The glow from the flames could be seen from miles away, a witness said.
The ferocious blaze started late Thursday or early Friday at the three-story Surf Hotel in Hampton, a densely populated community along the Atlantic coast an hour's drive north of Boston, fire Capt. David Lang said. The block of five wood-frame buildings, including a games arcade, a storage facility and a building that housed a gift shop and apartments quickly caught fire.
Most of the businesses in the area, including the Surf Hotel, are only open in the summer. No one was in any of the buildings that burned. About a dozen people who lived nearby were evacuated.
Hampton Fire Chief Chris Silver said the fire is believed to have started on the first floor of the Surf Hotel. The cause has not been determined.
He said the prompt response of 40 fire crews, some coming from Maine and Massachusetts, helped keep the fire from spreading.
"It certainly could have extended beyond the one block it was contained to," Silver said.
Hampton Beach has a history of major fires, Silver said, in 1915, 1923 and 1950. The most recent major fire was in 1999.
The weather at the time of Friday's fire was rainy and windy because of a storm moving up the Atlantic coast, which helped to fan the flames and ripped the roof off another nearby hotel, which was open for business. The handful of people inside got out safely, authorities said.
The National Weather Service said the region recorded its strongest wind gust of the storm at about the same time the fire was reported — a 68 mph reading, just below hurricane force of 74 mph, at Pease Airport in Portsmouth, about 10 miles north of Hampton.
The bad weather stretched the resources of the fire department, which had sent teams and equipment to several weather-related emergencies before the hotel blaze was reported at 12:05 a.m. Friday.
Paul Sullivan, a retired police officer who lives in the center of town about 3 miles from the hotel, said he could see the fire from his front window.
"I saw a growing glow, getting brighter and brighter by the moment," Sullivan said by telephone.
It took firefighters several hours before they could put out the fire while battling the winds and the cold, but by then the buildings couldn't be salvaged, Lang said.
"They're pretty much gone," he said.
White smoke was billowing from the charred rubble Friday morning as firefighters continued to douse it with water.
Hampton is home to Hampton Beach State Park, a popular summer destination. The Surf Hotel is on Ocean Boulevard, which is lined with hotels, condos, restaurants and gift shops. The strip is central to the region's bustling summer economy and is a major draw for beach visitors but usually is quiet in the winter.
Most of the buildings along Ocean Boulevard are old and close together, with no firestops in between.