Final Report: No Evidence Nine-Alarm Salisbury Fire Was Set; Cause Remains ‘Officially Undetermined’

The seaside blaze destroys motel and other buildings. (Mike Jarvis photograph for WHAV News.)

There is no evidence a nine-alarm fire January in Salisbury that destroyed a hotel and five residential buildings was set intentionally.

Salisbury Fire Chief Scott Carrigan, Salisbury Police Chief Thomas W. Fowler and State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey, however, said in a joint statement yesterday the cause, however, remains “officially undetermined.”

“The magnitude of this fire and the high wind conditions had us very concerned about the community’s safety, and I again want to recognize the work of Salisbury firefighters and the firefighters from surrounding cities and towns who rushed to help in the early morning hours,” said Carrigan. “Five buildings were a total loss, but we’re extremely fortunate that this fire was contained and did not cause any injuries or worse.”

Ostroskey said, “Investigators found that smoking materials and an electrical event were potential causes of this fire.” However, officials pointed to a standard that requires investigators to classify a fire as undetermined if they are unable to eliminate all but one possible cause.

An examination of the scene, security video footage, interviews with more than 15 witnesses, and other evidence suggest the fire began along the right-hand side of Michael’s Oceanfront Motel, near the front of the building, at about 1:38 a.m. The statement explained, “Because of catastrophic damage in the area of origin and surrounding structures, they were not able to rule out the improper disposal of smoking materials or an electrical event as potential causes.”

Ostroskey used the opportunity to remind smokers to use a sturdy ashtray with water or sand and put it out, all the way, every time. The fire marshal also called on residents to “Remember also to check extension cords and replace them if they’re cracked, damaged, or worn, and use only outdoor-rated extension cords when using them outside the home.”

The fire was first reported at about 1:46 a.m. by a Central Avenue occupant who called 9-1-1 after being alerted by another, and a MassDOT employee who observed flames next to the hotel and called Salisbury Police.

More than 100 firefighters and about 30 apparatus from Salisbury and communities across Essex County, including Haverhill, and southern New Hampshire helped fight the fire. They were assisted at the scene by the Department of Fire Services, which deployed specialized apparatus and personnel to support communications and firefighter health and safety during the ongoing incident, as well as the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, Cataldo Ambulance, the Boston Sparks Association and Rehab 5.

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