Block Island reopens to visitors after large fire at historic Harborside Inn

NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. – Visitors are welcome back to Block Island after a large fire erupted in a historic hotel in the smallest town of the nation’s smallest state Friday night, leaving the area with limited water and no power and prompting a state of emergency.

Multiple agencies responded to the fire at Harborside Inn hotel in New Shoreham as all guests were safely evacuated and officials urged visitors to avoid the area on Saturday.

First responders were still on the site Sunday morning, as water and power were being restored to nearby businesses, Joon Yang, a manager at Block Island Reservations, which manages Harborside Inn and other nearby hotels, told CNN.

Ferry service into the island was also restored by Sunday morning, according to the Block Island Chamber of Commerce. The organization said visitors are now welcome back, but are asked to conserve water.

New Shoreham boasts the unique distinction of being the state’s smallest town, and logistics to get to the island appeared to hamper first responders from getting to the fire as crews needed to be ferried onto the island to provide resources to put out the fire.

“Block Island has a fire department on the island, but this is the first time we’ve actually had to respond there,” said South Kingstown Deputy Fire Chief Tom Bradley according to the Block Island Chamber of Commerce. “It took about an hour for crews and a half hour by the Coast Guard boat.”

“I’ve never heard of anything like this happening here before,” Yang said. “As old as these buildings are, they’ve been able to maintain them for many years. It’s devastating to find out something like this happened.”

The chamber of commerce reported the hotel roof caved in around 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, and first responders were able to put the fire out late Saturday morning, according to a Facebook post by Block Island Tourism.

Block Island Chamber of Commerce announced the State of Emergency in a Facebook post Saturday morning saying there was limited water and no power in town.

Morning ferries coming into the island were also halted Saturday morning, according to New Shoreham town manager, Maryanne Crawford.

“Unfortunately last night there was a horrific fire at Harborside Inn and we won’t be able to reopen till the rest of the season,” a Saturday Facebook post from the Harbor Inn Grill located in Harborside Inn reads. “Our staff and everyone in the building are safe, which is the most important.”

The sight of the stately white building with its signature Victorian seaport charm has greeted visitors ferrying into the island for more than a century, Yang said.

“Our building was located right in front of the water, as people got off the ferry,” Yang said. “People know where it is. So many people have stayed here.

“The central area of the building has caved down. The roof is basically off. There’s a lot of damage to the back of the building,” he added. “It’s not completely burned down, but it’s significantly burnt. We’re going to have to wait a good amount of time to even see what we can salvage.”

Block Island Reservations’ central office is located at the site of the fire, and their cleaning supplies and inventory were damaged, prompting the business to cancel and refund reservations for all its properties on the island through August 24, Yang said.

As the state deployed resources to respond to the fire, it was also dealing with a tornado and severe thunderstorms leaving “hundreds of large trees either uprooted or snapped at their bases,” according to the National Weather Service.

“From responding to an unprecedented tornado yesterday to helping contain a dangerous fire on Block Island, we are incredibly grateful for the tireless work of emergency responders across the state over the last 48 hours,” Gov. Dan McKee said Saturday.

McKee added his team is working with the US Small Business Administration and the Rhode Island Commerce team to provide assistance to small businesses affected by the fire.

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