The final investigation report on the Veranda House fire has been completed by the Massachusetts State Police Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit, and the document both confirms the initial conclusion - that the devastating blaze was caused by an employee improperly disposing of a cigarette - while also offering new details on how investigators reached that determination.
The nine-page report, obtained by the Current through a public records request to the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security’s Department of Fire Services, summarizes investigators’ interviews with the lone Veranda House employee who was at the hotel when the fire started, and is believed to have discarded the cigarette that sparked the blaze.
The origin of the fire was confirmed to be under the first floor porch, where garbage from the hotel was being stored. Security camera footage from inside the hotel showed the Veranda House employee walking out a side door toward the area of the porch where the blaze started just prior to the initial reports of a fire that were called into public safety dispatchers, according to the report.
“During an interview with (name redacted), he had admitted to smoking a cigarette in this area and was unsure of where he put the cigarette when he finished,” wrote State Police Trooper Daniel Myers of the Fire Investigation Southeast Team in the final report. “He stated he may have just thrown the cigarette on the porch and not completely put it out. All other ignition sources were ruled out leaving a lit cigarette being disposed of on top of the plastic trash bags under the A side porch as the cause of the fire.”
The report also answers some of the lingering questions about the fire, including the confirmation that a CO detector had indeed been removed from an area of the hotel the night before the fire started, but it was determined that played no role in what happened the next morning. The fire alarm system was online, and “appeared to have worked as designed to,” according to the report. Audible alarms were activated, and the alarm company notified the Nantucket Fire Department when they received the notification from the system.
The joint investigation conducted by the Massachusetts State Police Fire & Investigation Unit (FEIU) and the Nantucket Police Department included a review of surveillance footage from inside the hotel, along with photos and videos from witnesses. A State Police K-9 was also brought to the island to search for the presence of ignitable liquids, but found none. Investigators also interviewed neighbors, guests, the Veranda House manager, and the lone employee who was at the hotel when the fire started. The report obtained by the Current was heavily redacted and did not disclose the names of those people who were interviewed.
“(name redacted) was staying at the hotel in an employee room and was the only employee at the hotel during the fire,” the report states. “(redacted) initially stated that he was sleeping in his (redacted). Before speaking to (redacted) I had watched security camera footage from the hotel that (redacted) had showed me that showed (redacted) walking in and out of the hotel prior to the fire starting. The footage also showed him walking in the direction of where the fire originated. After I asked (redacted) about him going outside prior to the fire, he started changing his story. (redacted) I asked (redacted) if he smoked cigarettes and he stated (redacted) was extremely nervous during the interview and changed his story numerous times. Eventually he was asked if we would find any cigarettes in his room when we went inside. At this point (redacted) changed his story again and said (redacted). Video camera footage showed (redacted) walking out of the hotel at approximately 0634 and walking back inside at approximately 0640. The first 911 calls for the fire were called in at approximately 0645.”
Investigators later searched the area of the employee’s room that had sustained less damage than other areas of the hotel following the fire, and found a pack of cigarettes and lighters, along with his cell phone, laptop, and wallet, which were returned to him.
A portion of the report also focused on the area of origin of the fire, specifically regarding the way in which the hotel was storing trash under the porch. After the blaze was extinguished, investigators had the demolition crews remove debris from the collapsed structure in order to observe this area of the hotel.
“Upon heavy debris being removed, investigators discovered large amounts of trash in the area of origin,” Trooper Myers wrote in the report. “No trash barrels were found and it appeared the trash was just stored in plastic bags under the porch...An exhaust vent for the hotel's laundry was also located near the area of origin. The laundry systems did not appear to have any significant damage. During the interview with (name redacted) stated the vents had been cleaned about 6 weeks ago. The laundry exhaust vent was subsequently ruled out as a potential ignition source.”
The Veranda House, owned by the Rhode Island based real estate investment firm Procaccianti Companies, was insured by the American Zurich Insurance Co., according to the report. The fire caused “millions” in damages to the Veranda House - which has since been completely demolished - along with two neighboring private residences at 4 and 5 Step Lane.
The owners of the Veranda House stated in late July that they are “committed to continuing to work closely with the town, our neighbors and members of the community in the coming months and years to rebuild the Veranda House and help restore the neighborhood around it.”