Cause of Westerly fire probed

Firefighters and officials view a building on Commerce Street in Westerly Saturday that had been damaged by fire the night before.
Firefighters and officials view a building on Commerce Street in Westerly Saturday that had been damaged by fire the night before. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

Westerly - Eleven people from seven families were displaced as a result of Friday's stubborn fire, which ripped through a building the residents shared with a popular sandwich shop and an antiques store.

It remains to be seen whether the building at 3 and 7 Commerce St. will have to be torn down, said Building Inspector David Murphy said Saturday. The structural integrity of the structure may have been compromised by the fire, a roof collapse and the amount of water used to fight it, he said.

Ten Sandwiches and Mary D's Antiques & Collectibles occupied the first floor.

"Ultimately, it comes down to how much money you want to spend in repairs. You have to think about it logically, it may not be worth it," he said of the owners' choice to fix the damage.

The fire was called in around 7:40 p.m., and firefighters were ordered to evacuate the structure at least once. Three hours later, firefighters from Westerly, Old Mystic and Pawcatuck were still battling hot spots.

Westerly fire officials could not be reached Saturday.

Murphy said the second and third floors of the building are a "total loss" and that he will meet with the owners of the building and the insurance company on Monday.

Until the structure is deemed safe, no one will be allowed in, he said.

Westerly Town Manager Steven Hartford said Saturday that police officers have been stationed at the building since the fire occurred and that they will remain there to keep the building and its contents secure.

Hartford said the fire is believed to have started in a residential unit, but because the fire marshal's investigation isn't complete, the exact origin hasn't been determined yet.

He said because of the significant amount of water, smoke and fire damage, the future of the building is unknown.

"It's too soon to say that the building will have to be torn down, but it's likely that will be the case," Hartford said. "It's a devastating event for all of the people living there. Not only do they have to find another place to live, but they may be without all of their possessions."

Those out for an afternoon walk in the sun Saturday stopped to take pictures of the building with their cellphones while fire damage restoration crews from Servpro cleaned up fire debris scattered in front of the retail stores.

Liz McDonald, senior director for emergency services for the Rhode Island chapter of the American Red Cross, said Saturday that the agency plans to help provide housing for the seven families but said that some of them are staying with friends or family.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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