Hotel Fire Destroys Entire Block in New Hampshire

March 2, 2010

A fire that started in an unoccupied oceanfront hotel was fanned by hurricane-force winds and spread to several nearby buildings, engulfing and destroying an entire block of businesses on a stretch of Hampton Beach popular with summer tourists. No injuries were reported.

The ferocious blaze started late Thursday or early Friday at the three-story Surf Hotel, Hampton Fire Capt. David Lang said. The block of five wood-frame buildings, including an arcade, a storage facility and a building that housed a gift shop and apartments quickly caught fire.

Hampton is a densely populated community along the Atlantic coast, about an hour north of Boston, and many of the area’s businesses, 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.

The blaze began as the region bore the brunt of a slow-moving winter storm that unleashed heavy snow, rain and hurricane-force winds across the Northeast as it knocked out power to more than 1 million homes and businesses. The winds ripped off the roof of another Hampton Beach hotel, which was open for business. The handful of people inside got out safely, authorities said.

Hampton Fire Chief Chris Silver said the fire was believed to have started on the first floor of the 60-year-old Surf Hotel. The cause remained under investigation, but the state Department of Safety said late Friday that criminal intent is not suspected.

The highest wind reported during the storm was 91 mph — well above hurricane force of 74 mph — several miles offshore from Portsmouth.

The strip is central to the region’s bustling summer economy and is a major draw for beach visitors.

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