Massive Fire Hits Downtown Nantucket

Jason Graziadei and David Creed •

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A massive fire hit downtown Nantucket Saturday morning, as the historic Veranda House Inn on Step Lane went up in flames. The inn has been completely destroyed, and two neighboring homes have also been heavily damaged by fire.

Nantucket Deputy Fire Chief Sean Mitchell told the Current around 11 a.m., that he believes everyone staying at the Veranda House and staff are accounted for, along with those from neighboring residences.

"We believe that everybody's accounted for," Mitchell said. It is unclear at the time how this fire started, he added. Two firefighters were transported to the hospital for possible heat exhaustion and a third for a back injury.

Nantucket Fire Department Chief Steve Murphy said the department was first notified of the blaze at approximately 6:46 a.m. through a 911 call reporting a building fire.

"An off-duty captain and several civilians ran to the location upon hearing of the fire and assisted in removing guests from the hotel," the Nantucket Fire Department stated in a press release. "The captain and others entered into dangerous conditions without protective equipment to assure everyone got out of the building. The captain was directed by a guest to a room that possibly had an occupant but found it empty, but did find two others in the hallway that he assisted to safety. He attempted to search further but was driven back by the intense heat and smoke. The actions of the citizens and the captain saved lives."

That captain was Nate Barber, who was off-duty and getting coffee on Broad Street when he saw the smoke billowing from the Veranda House.

Along with several civilians, including Pat Marks, Barber sprinted to the scene to find the building fully engulfed in flames.

A hotel guest told Barber his son was still inside, so Barber entered the building to search for him. After being turned back by the smoke, he found another way in by jumping up onto a roof, and then a table, and entered through an open window.

“I got into the hallway, it was pitch black smoke, and there was a couple there yelling for help,” Barber told the Current from his hospital bed, where he is recovering and being monitored for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. “I grabbed them, took them out the window to another side of the building and onto a roof. Miraculously there was a guy there with a ladder, I think it was a neighbor, and we took the people down the ladder.”

Barber then went back into the hotel.

“We went through three floors and kicked down doors but didn’t find anyone,” Barber said. By that time, the rest of the fire department had arrived.

All available Nantucket Fire Department personnel were been called in to fight the blaze, along with over a dozen members of the Hyannis, Dennis, and Yarmouth Fire Departments that responded to the island by boat.

"Our engine was dispatched and they saw smoke from the rotary," Mitchell said. "So it was well involved by the time they got here. First crews on scene immediately started attacking the fire from the outside. Heavy, heavy fire from the Veranda House, which obviously spread across the street, as well as to the house on the left side of it. So that's what we're concentrating on right now is stopping it at those homes so it doesn't continue to spread. We have mutual aid here from Hyannis, we have four firefighters and hands on scene, and eight more on the way to assist us. And at the moment, we're holding it to these three buildings."

Diana Beatey, who lives across the street from the Veranda House property, said she heard a fire alarm going off this morning.

"I could hear the flames and crackling," Beatey said. "A Jamaican lady was in the street, she's the newspaper delivery woman, whoever she is, she saved everyone in this building. 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."

The inn was engulfed in flames just before 7 a.m. Saturday morning, and the response is ongoing as they continue to work on putting the fire seven hours after the first response. Mitchell confirmed that given the location of this structure, it is a nightmare scenario.

"These are old buildings. Some of them are very close together. Yeah. And it's tough to access as you can see from the width of some of these streets," he said. "Luckily, the first crew came here and they got here pretty quickly. They were able to knock it down for the most part. But yeah, it's difficult. We're gonna be here for a while."

The fire and police departments are now focusing their attention on removing the toxin-filled water from the roads. Details and road closures are expected to go into the night and possibly into tomorrow. The fire department remains on scene sifting through the buildings to identify any hot spots that may remain.

According to the Nantucket Historical Association, the Veranda House was purchased in 1881 by Nathan Chapman who converted it into a boarding house.

"After 1930, it was renamed the Overlook Hotel and changed hands several times before being acquired in 1946 by Tom and Jo Devine, who were succeeded by, first, their son, and subsequently their grandson, who made major renovations and reclaimed its original name. It only recently came under new ownership, but is still called Veranda House," according to the NHA.

This story will be updated.

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