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Block Island reopens to visitors after a major fire at the historic Harborside Inn

NEW SHOREHAM, RI — Visitors are welcome back to Block Island after a big fire broke out in a historic hotel in the smallest city of the country’s smallest state on Friday night, leaving the area with limited water and no power and a state of emergency declared.

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

According to Joon Yang, a manager at Block Island Reservations, which manages Harborside Inn and other hotels in the area, first responders were still on scene Sunday morning while water and power were restored to nearby businesses.

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

New Shoreham has the unique distinction of being the smallest city in the state, and the logistics of getting to the island seemed to hinder first responders from getting to the blaze, as crews had to be transported to the island to provide resources to the extinguish fire.

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

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

The Chamber of Commerce reported around 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning that the hotel’s roof collapsed, and first responders were able to put out the fire late Saturday morning, according to a Block Island Tourism Facebook post.

The Block Island Chamber of Commerce announced a state of emergency on Saturday morning in a Facebook post saying there was limited water and no power in the city.

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According to New Shoreham city manager, Maryanne Crawford, morning ferries entering the island were also shut down Saturday morning.

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

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

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

“The central part of the building has collapsed. The roof is almost gone. There is a lot of damage to the back of the building,” he added. “It didn’t burn completely, but it burned significantly. We’ll have to wait quite a while to see what we can salvage.”

Block Island Reservations’ headquarters are at the scene of the fire, and their cleaning supplies and inventory were damaged, forcing the company to cancel and refund reservations for all of its properties on the island through Aug. 24, Yang said.

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While the state deployed resources to respond to the fire, it also endured a tornado and severe thunderstorms, leaving “hundreds of large trees either uprooted or snapped at their base,” 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 past 48 hours,” Governor Dan McKee said Saturday.

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

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