Massive Portsmouth fire still under investigation, costs calculated
PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth Fire Chief Steve Achilles said that fighting the massive fire which destroyed State Street Saloon and 14 apartment units last week cost local taxpayers $37,000.
“A lot of that was personnel costs for Portsmouth firefighters to come in. We had 34 of our 60 sworn people play some part in the incident, not on duty,” Achilles said. “That doesn’t even take into account the 40 departments from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts and what they had to pay. A lot of those departments stayed for a long period of time.”
Achilles said $7,000 of that cost in Portsmouth was due to equipment damage.
Achilles explained prior to the city council meeting Monday night that the April 10 fire was so powerful that officials called a general alarm. Achilles said Portsmouth has a five-alarm system, but around 4 a.m., they were still calling for mutual assistance and they went to a general alarm for the first time in 17 years.
Achilles said it is hard for members of the fire department and the public to see the historic buildings gone.
“Of course, it’s an iconic location in the city. It has a lot of memories and connections to a lot of people. Even now, people are still going there, and are looking at the hole in the city that used to be State Street Saloon, which for a lot of residents was kind of a ‘go-to’ place,” Achilles said.
During the city council meeting Monday night, Achilles recapped the incident and the department’s response. He said the cause of the fire is still under investigation. Police have been looking for photos and video of the incident to help piece together what happened.
Achilles told assistant mayor James Splaine that a sprinkler system could have saved the saloon and apartments. On Monday afternoon, what was left of the structures was still in a heap at the corner of State and Pleasant Streets.
Insurance officials are set to determine the fate of the brick façade apartment building that is still standing at 278 State St. It is not yet clear if the building will be knocked down, or if they will use steel frames to reinforce and rebuild the structure.
According to city records posted online by the assessor’s office, the buildings destroyed in the fire were built in 1850.