PORTSMOUTH, R.I. (WPRI) — Smoke filled the skies over Narragansett Bay Thursday night as firefighters from around the state battled a fire that destroyed three homes on Prudence Island.
The fire broke out at a home on Herreshoff Lane around 11 p.m. and quickly spread to two neighboring houses. The flames could be seen from as far away as Bristol.
The state fire marshal said the fire was caused by a faulty wood stove. After the elderly woman who lived there started the stove, she saw the flames and immediately escaped the house before calling 911.
Portsmouth Assistant Fire Chief Howard Tighe said everyone who was on duty immediately sprung into action.
He said they all jumped into their new fireboat and shot across Narragansett Bay, making it to Prudence Island within five minutes of receiving the call.
When they arrived, Tighe said they joined members of the Prudence Island Volunteer Fire Department, who were already battling the heavy flames and thick smoke.
Tighe said the woman was the only person inside the home when the fire broke out. The other two were unoccupied summer homes.
By Friday morning, all three were reduced to rubble.
Portsmouth Fire Chief Paul Ford said without their new fireboat, which moves at triple the speed of the department’s other boat, the situation could’ve been much worse.
“Literally every second counts,” he said. “Easily, this could’ve been six, seven, eight houses.”
The flames also damaged the exterior of two other nearby homes, but Ford said those are both salvageable.
There are no fire hydrants on the island, according to Prudence Island Fire Chief Robert Thurber, but with the help of Bristol’s fireboat, they were able to pump seawater onto the burning homes while Portsmouth’s fireboat shuttled firefighters to the island.
“The addition of those boats made a big difference in this situation,” Ford said.
Thurber said the woman is currently staying with neighbors and thankfully, no one was injured.
“People lost their belongings,” he said. “Three houses are destroyed, burned right to the ground, and it’s a difficult challenge when you know these people. These are our neighbors.”
Ford said he’s grateful this fire broke out in the off-season. He said during the winter months there are only 300 residents living on the island, which is significantly smaller than in the summer, when the island’s population is closer to 3,000.