NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. (WPRI) — Ryleigh Pappas and Nick Ceccarelli never expected their family vacation to go up in flames.
The Connecticut couple had just arrived on Block Island Friday and were spending the night in their room at the Harborside Inn when the fire alarms started going off.
“I honestly just thought maybe somebody had burnt some popcorn in their hotel room,” Pappas recalled. “Then it was really smoky, and I saw people walking down the hallway and grabbing their purses and some bags.”
The couple quickly grabbed their wallets and a backpack before leaving their room. Pappas said Ceccarelli and her sister’s boyfriend opted to stay behind and make sure everyone on their floor knew what was happening.
“They went from door to door making sure everybody knew there was a fire,” Pappas said.
“There were a lot of people running out of there, but we were still going towards the fire to see if anybody was trapped,” Ceccarelli added.
Ceccarelli said they eventually came upon a mother and her two children in one of the rooms and helped them to safety.
Firefighters from the island’s volunteer fire department rushed to the three-story hotel to find flames shooting from the roof and thick, black smoke billowing up into the night sky.
The fire prompted an extensive response from departments across the state. The U.S. Coast Guard shipped firefighters over to the island from Point Judith in droves as the Block Island Ferry transported ladder trucks, engines and additional equipment.
Ceccarelli estimated that the flames were roughly 10 feet high.
“It was a lot to process, and you couldn’t process it in the moment,” Pappas said. “I’ve read stories and heard of buildings catching on fire, but living it and experiencing it is completely different.”
Even though the fire destroyed everything they left behind in their room and cut their weekend getaway short, both Pappas and Ceccarelli are thankful it wasn’t worse.
“It was such an old building,” Pappas said. “Just knowing everyone got out safely was a relief, and the first responders did an amazing job.”
The hotel, which was first built more than 150 years ago, has been deemed a total loss and will eventually be demolished.
“It’s terrible,” Ceccarelli said. “It was a piece of history on the island … the shops underneath, the restaurant inside, all of that’s just not going to be there anymore.”
The cause of the fire remains under investigation at this time, but investigators believe it started in the hotel’s first-floor kitchen.