Hampton Beach, NH – Sprinkler system helps firefighters control fire at restaurant in historic building

Firefighters battled a fire Wednesday morning at the Purple Urchin Seaside Cafe at Hampton Beach.  The Purple Urchin is located on the second floor of 169 Ocean Blvd.

The fire started just before 8 a.m. and took crews an hour to put out. The fire went to three alarms in the iconic building that has been a part of Hampton Beach since the early 1900s.

In February 2010, a fire destroyed an entire block in Hampton Beach, and Fire Chief Jameson Ayotte said that fire was in their minds as they responded to the fire. Ayotte was the first person to spot the fire at the Purple Urchin.

“I was driving into work and saw smoke coming from the building,” Ayotte said. “The smoke was coming from the roof just over the Purple Urchin.”

Firefighters initially battled the fire from the front stairs. Authorities said sprinklers and the fire alarm system activated during the fire.  Firefighters from 16 New Hampshire and Massachusetts towns joined in the fight.  Ayotte said it appeared to have started on the second floor, but it didn’t stay there.

“The fire was in the roof structure and started to run along the underside of the roof, so you can see they’re placing cuts in the roof and going after it under the shingles,” he said.

The chief said the building was built in 1901, so firefighters had to deal with seasoned wood. But the building had a sprinkler system, which helped them get the fire under control.

Donnie Miller, who owns a few businesses in the building, said that his reaction was immediate.  “Panic, immediately,” he said. “You panic, and your mind thinks the worst, obviously. Your heart drops in your stomach, and you want to see what’s happening.”

Eventually, he was able to get a look inside. “What I could see from where we’re at, it’s just smoke damage, not any water damage,” he said.

Several adjacent businesses were damaged by water and smoke. Firefighters said the building was unoccupied at the time, as most of the seasonal businesses were closed for the winter season.

Three firefighters suffered minor injuries and were treated and released. They are all expected to make a full recovery. Hampton fire officials, the state Fire Marshal’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco of Firearms investigated the cause of the fire.

Officials said the cause was a beverage cooler, which had a power cord that short-circuited.

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