BLOCK ISLAND, RI – Some were emergency personnel and others were drafted into emergency service around midnight of August 18, during the major fire that gutted the Harborside Inn, which was on the National Register of Historic Places.
Many people stepped up to assist others the night of the blaze, including a state trooper who knocked on doors helping hotel guests safely escape and ensuring no one was left behind. There was also the ferry captain and crew and U.S. Coast Guard servicemembers who sped back-and-forth to the mainland to pick up reinforcements and supplies. Hardworking firefighters from Block Island and neighboring towns answered the call to help contain the blaze and keep it from spreading. There were also bystanders who helped get gas containers away from the burning building, and there were neighbors and volunteers who helped evacuees find shelter. Today, U.S. Senator Jack Reed hailed all who responded to the devastating blaze at the Harborside Inn and heralded the team effort to prevent a wider disaster.
During a visit to Block Island today, Senator Reed made it a point to thank the many individuals who worked together and contributed to protecting people and neighboring properties and marveled that no one was hurt.
The historic hotel, which dates back to the 19th century, was damaged beyond repair and is being torn down. This could prove an economic setback for tourism on the island. But Senator Reed said he is confident the Town of New Shoreham will recover and he continues working with local, state, and federal officials to ensure the federal government is responsive and provides all eligible assistance to those most impacted by the fire.
“A big thank you to every single person who was part of this team effort. It’s miraculous that no one was hurt and our incredible firefighters, the volunteers here on Block Island, and those who rushed in from all over the state did a phenomenal job. Their bravery and selflessness ensured everyone in the area was safe that night and the fire didn’t spread to neighboring structures,” said Senator Reed. “The Coast Guard, the Block Island Ferry, public safety officials, our firefighters, volunteers, everybody really looked out for one another and that made all the difference. Even amidst a terrible tragedy, it is heartening to see people come together and help one another. And I will continue working to ensure the federal government does its part to help Block Island and those most impacted by the fire.”
Today, Reed visited with New Shoreham Town Manager Maryanne Crawford and Block Island Fire Chief Chris Hobe, and Block Island Police Chief John Lynch, as well as other local officials and got a look at the kitchen area of the burned out hotel where the blaze, which is still under investigation, is believed to have started. Senator Reed also met with members of the Town Council, the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, and the Block Island Water Company.
After the fire broke out, a state of emergency was declared on the island, which experienced limited water and power cut off. Over 50 firefighters from neighboring mainland communities, along with four fire vehicles, were ferried in by the Coast Guard and the Block Island Ferry.
A day after the fire, Block Island began to welcome visitors back to the island as regularly-scheduled ferry service resumed. And officials from the American Red Cross travelled to the island to assist people who were still displaced.
The state requested and received a disaster declaration from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). As a result, eligible applicants in the declared area can now apply for low-interest disaster loans from the SBA.
Reed is also working on the Appropriations Committee to deliver additional federal funding to enhance public safety and emergency response capabilities on Block Island, and to ensure the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meets its commitments to support water infrastructure on Block Island.
Reed noted that USDA’s Water & Environmental Programs (WEP) funding supported the recent addition of a water tower to increase water supply on the island. As the Harborside fire demonstrated, this additional supply is critical for the Town’s emergency response preparedness. Earlier this month, Senator Reed helped secure $286,000 through USDA to improve drinking water on Block Island. This funding will support drinking water and well improvements.