Fire Guts Island Landmarks
Thursday, March 16, 2006
A three-alarm fire fueled by fierce winds battered downtown Solomons Island yesterday, largely destroying two of the island's landmarks, the Lighthouse Inn and Bowen's Inn.
Fire investigators think the blaze started at Bowen's Inn at 12:30 p.m. and quickly spread to the Lighthouse Inn, a condominium, two boats and a dumpster.
It took two hours for 68 firefighters and a pair of tugboats with hoses to extinguish the flames. As the fire burned, black smoke spread over the island, a small strip of land at the southern tip of Calvert County where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay.
Damage is estimated at $2.5 million.
Fire investigators were not sure last night what caused the blaze. They said that 45 mph winds made the flames difficult to tame.
The winds and dry weather were a concern across the region, with the National Weather Service having issued a "red flag" wildfire alert for Virginia, the District and much of Maryland.
"If it weren't for those tugboats, the wind was so bad we could have been looking at the lower part of the island going up in flames," said Solomons Volunteer Assistant Fire Chief Charles Nava.
Both Bowen's Inn, operating since 1918 and the last of the island's old-style inns, and the Lighthouse Inn, a restaurant known for giving Thanksgiving dinners to the needy, were gutted.
County Commissioner Gerald W. Clark, who owns a store a few blocks away, teared up at the sight of the billowing smoke.
"It's a sad day; it's heartbreaking," Clark said. "We're a family down here, and this is a big loss."
Richard Fischer, owner of the Lighthouse Inn, looked at the charred remains of his restaurant yesterday as he stood a few feet from the yellow caution tape. People walked up to offer condolences as if somebody had died.
After he finished college, Fischer, 52, designed the restaurant himself, with its three dining levels overlooking the harbor or the Patuxent River. He turned it into an anchor establishment along the Solomons Island waterfront.