WESTERLY — A fire that caused heavy damage to the concession area of the Misquamicut State Beach pavilion was likely caused by an improperly discarded cigarette, officials said Tuesday.
Michael Sweeney, chief of investigations for the state fire marshal's office, said an investigation found no evidence of any suspicious activity. He said that a discarded cigarette played a “very likely role” in what’s being treated as an accidental and undetermined fire.
“When it comes to these investigations, the bar is set at determining the most probable cause, and in this case we are just shy of meeting that bar,” Sweeney said in a phone interview. “While it will remain undetermined, there is evidence to suggest that it most likely started as a result of an improperly discarded cigarette that, along with the wind conditions, caused the fire to spread into the building.”
Sweeney noted that the Misqumicut fire was one of three in the state last weekend likely started by cigarettes, and all were affected by strong winds.
The Misquamicut, Watch Hill and Dunn’s Corners fire departments were called to Misquamicut State Beach, at 257 Atlantic Ave., around 4 p.m. with reports of smoke showing from the pavilion. The fire, which started near a trash receptacle, had spread into the concessions area of the building and caused considerable damage to that portion of the facility.
Firefighters established a perimeter and the fire was extinguished by 4:40 p.m., local officials said. No injuries were reported.
On Monday, Town Councilor Jean Gagnier asked Town Manager J. Mark Rooney to provide the council with an overview of the damage and the state’s plans for rebuilding the facility. Rooney said he hoped to have the information available in time for the council’s Oct. 29 meeting.
Michael Healey, chief public affairs officer for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, said in an email that Misquamicut remains Rhode Island’s busiest state beach and that DEM was already working toward a goal of repairing the concessions building before the start of beach season next year. “In 2016, the 343,000 visitors to the beach spent $44 million. We’re very mindful of the beach’s economic importance to Westerly,” he said.
Healey said it was too early to establish any timelines. Insurance adjustors have been in touch with the DEM staff and would assess the damage in the coming weeks, he said.
“The 2019 beach season opens on Memorial Day weekend,” he said. “One of our priorities this off-season will be to make sure that the concession stand is rebuilt in time for opening weekend.”
Sun staff writer Dale Faulkner contributed to this report.