As the Nantucket Fire Department battled the Veranda House fire on Saturday, neighbors of the historic inn were talking about a woman who was delivering newspapers early that morning, saw the flames, called 911 and was screaming to alert the guests about the growing inferno.
This woman saved lives, the neighbors said, and helped avert a greater disaster in downtown Nantucket. But no one at the time knew who she was.
Her name is Venessa Smith. She was delivering copies of The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal that morning on her usual route through downtown Nantucket. When she hit North Water Street, she sensed something was wrong.
“I came around the corner and I saw this fire blazing,” Smith told the Current. “The alarm was going, but I didn’t see anyone moving. I saw nobody.”
She stopped in the middle of the road and got out of her car.
“I called 911 and ran inside the yard of the Veranda House and started screaming ‘fire! Everyone please get out’!” Smith recalled. “I was running up and down the street screaming ‘get out! Get out’!”
Looking up at the charred remains of the Veranda House on Wednesday morning, Smith was still in disbelief that the historic inn had been destroyed, but grateful to have played her part in helping to ensure that everyone made it out alive. To Smith, it wasn’t luck or chance that put her there in that moment.
“I’m thankful that God made me be there at that time,” she said. “It was only God.”
Diana Beatey, who lives across the street from the Veranda House property, remembers seeing Smith that morning. While she didn't know who she was, Beatey hailed her actions that morning
"A Jamaican lady was in the street, she's the newspaper delivery woman, whoever she is, she saved everyone in this building," Beatey said the morning of the fire. "She was delivering the newspapers, saw the smoke and called 911 and was screaming. I think everyone in there would be dead if she wasn't delivering the newspapers this morning."
A single mother of two children – the youngest of whom is going to be a freshman at Nantucket High School in the fall – Smith has lived on Nantucket since 2004. Her husband had a stroke shortly after they moved to the island and required assisted living care at a facility on the mainland for many years before passing away in 2018.
Smith came to Nantucket from New York, and is originally from Montego Bay, Jamaica.
The newspaper delivery route is just one of her three jobs on the island. She also cleans houses, but her primary occupation is as a certified nursing assistant providing home health care. Smith was initially reluctant to talk at all about the events of Saturday morning.
“I’m not looking for any accolades or anything, I’m just thankful that God put me there,” she said.