Cigarette Blamed for Fire on Solomons

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 18, 2006

Fire investigators have determined that a cigarette butt carelessly discarded on a pile of dry leaves and brush probably ignited the fire this week that destroyed two landmark businesses on Solomons Island.

"Based on burn patterns and witness statements, that seems like the most probable explanation," said Deputy State Fire Marshal John Tennyson.

The fire began under the wooden walkway at Bowen's Inn, and the flames, driven by gusty winds and vapors venting from three propane tanks, then crossed a fence toward the Lighthouse Inn. Vapors from a gas line under the Lighthouse also contributed to the fast spread of the fire, which burned both restaurants to the ground.

The hotel at Bowen's Inn was singed, but firefighters and an automatic sprinkler system saved the building. But a small four-unit condominium next to the Lighthouse was gutted. Residents said yesterday that the fire left little for them to recover.

Scott Belanger, 49, who lived in one of the units, said he has returned each day since the fire to look for mementos. The Baltimore native had kept in his apartment an autographed jersey from Hall of Fame Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, an autographed picture of Unitas and Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus and a folded American flag from his father's military burial.

Pawing through the soot and debris yesterday, he found the ruined cover of a yearbook and a melted soccer trophy that belonged to his son.

"You try to find things that are maybe not usable but at least will let you keep some of the memories," he said. "But it's all unrecognizable. It's all gone."

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