Finding Memories in the Rubble
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Scott Belanger was on his way to his office in Lexington Park when the first call came.
"Bowen's Inn is on fire," his friend told him. So Belanger started heading home.
Just months before, Belanger, 49, had moved into a condominium two doors down from Bowen's. The only thing separating his new home from the Wednesday afternoon blaze was the Lighthouse Inn.
The second call came while he was still en route: "The Lighthouse Inn's on fire."
That's when he started worrying. He reached home on Solomons Island just in time to see everything he owned go up in smoke.
In two hours, the fire on Solomons Island destroyed two of its most beloved businesses, shocked its residents and left Belanger and others homeless. The fire began, investigators believe, with a cigarette butt carelessly discarded on a pile of dry leaves and brush. By the time it was out, it had destroyed Bowen's Inn and the Lighthouse Inn, as well as a four-unit condominium, two small boats and a trash bin.
The loss of the two inns was particularly saddening to residents. Bowen's, the last of the old-style inns on Solomons Island, had been in business since 1918. The owner, Joan Simmons, was the third generation of her family to own and operate the inn. She lived on the second floor, above the restaurant.
The Lighthouse Inn, with its three dining levels overlooking the water, was especially dear to locals because of its owner, Richard Fischer.
Since 1990, he had used the restaurant to serve free Thanksgiving dinners to anyone who had nowhere else to go or was alone on the holiday. Some years, more than 400 people were fed at the restaurant, with meals distributed to about 200 other senior citizens unable to travel.
Fischer also held several fundraisers at the restaurant, including two for Johns Hopkins researchers after they diagnosed his throat cancer and helped him fight it.
In the days since the fire, residents have stopped by the wreckage to pay their respects, take pictures and reminisce. While fire investigators sifted through the rubble, island and county officials met to offer help to the two businesses.
Meanwhile, Belanger has returned every day to the charred debris where he and his 12-year-old son once lived.