WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — While the Harborside Inn is no longer standing, investigators are still working to figure out what caused the fire several weeks ago that led to its demise.
The Block Island business caught fire the night of Aug. 18 and the historic building has since been has since been demolished.
Fire officials know the flames started in the kitchen, but they’ve yet to pinpoint what exactly sparked them.
State Fire Marshal Tim McLaughlin gave an update on the investigation Tuesday, stressing that the fire was accidental. He said they’ve narrowed it down to two possible causes, “grease lighting vapors or something left on the stove.”
“We’re going to continue with that investigation, but those are the only two options at this point,” he added.
Investigators are trying to recover video from the surveillance system inside the kitchen, which sustained water damage on the night of the fire. They hope it it will reveal whether or not someone started cooking after the kitchen was closed for the night.
In the initial report, investigators said a buildup of grease from substandard cleaning practices likely caused the fire to quickly spread.
Even though the inn had not been inspected since the state took over that responsibility in 2019, McLaughlin assured it was up to code, with working fire alarms and sprinklers.
The kitchen’s fire suppression system failed to activate, however, it’s unclear if that would’ve changed the outcome.
“If it was on the stovetop, there’s a possibility it definitely would’ve went off, but if [the fire] got into the walls and to the void spaces, probably not,” McLaughlin explained. “Is there liability? I would bet you to say that’s between his company and the insurance companies.”
An inspector who works for a private company told investigators he had wrongly tagged the suppression system, so it appeared to be in good order. His license has since been revoked.
“The system had an ‘up to date’ tag on it,” McLaughlin said. “If we would’ve done the inspection, we would’ve saw the tag and said it’s OK.”