PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (CBS) — Three buildings in downtown Portsmouth collapsed early Monday morning in a fire on State Street.
A total of 44 departments responded to the massive fire, which also destroyed a restaurant area residents told WBZ-TV was a local landmark.
Flames broke out in or near the kitchen area of the State Street Saloon on 268 State Street around 12:30 a.m. and quickly spread to 266 and 270 State Street.
All three buildings had businesses on the ground floor and apartments above.
“The initial crews thought they had a pretty good knock on the fire, but the age of the structure, how it’s been cut up and changed over the years, probably within 20 minutes it started really going and it extended through all the buildings,” Portsmouth fire chief Steven Achilles told reporters.
The entire block was evacuated, but no one was seriously hurt. One firefighter was treated for a minor shoulder injury and is expected to be okay.
A fourth building was heavily damaged in the fire, which Achilles said necessitated the largest response in his time at the Portsmouth Fire Department.
“We exceeded our resources, so this was a general-alarm fire,” he said. “I’ve been here 17 years, and we have not had a general-alarm fire.”
A total of 14 apartment units were destroyed, and 17 people were displaced–but everyone got out safely. One person had to be rescued using a ladder.
“I go to leave, open the door to my apartment and go ‘oh my God’ that is a massive amount of smoke. I can’t get out,” resident Craig Langton said.
Langton had no choice but escape through his fourth story window. He took a picture as firefighters rose a ladder toward him. He and everyone else made it out before the collapse.
“Just trying to think about how lucky a lot of us are that our building’s still standing,” area resident James Woodhouse told WBZ-TV’s Nick Giovanni. “State Street Saloon and a lot of our friends lived in the building that did collapse, so that’s really unfortunate.”
Eli Sokorelis, who has owned the State Street Saloon for 35 years, stood on the street and looked at the charred remains of what used to be his restaurant Monday morning.
“It’s a big loss for us, for our employees, and for the city,” Sokorelis told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens. “It’d been a landmark for a long time. Hopefully, out of the ashes, we’ll rebuild.”
One resident of one of the collapsed buildings said he only got out because someone knocked on their door at 12:30 a.m.
“Our smoke detectors in our apartment weren’t going off at that point,” he said. “Somebody had pulled the fire alarm in the building, but that only was in the stairwell. We’re lucky we heard somebody banging on our door and got out.”
All day long Monday, onlookers were moved to tears at the sight of the destruction.
“It’s absolutely devastating,” said a woman who lived above the local landmark for ten years. “The State Street Saloon, too, is such a huge local establishment that’s been there for so long, it’s very upsetting.”
There’s no word yet on how the fire started.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens reports