Investigation begins following 'stubborn' blaze at renovated Wayfinder Hotel in Newport

·5 min read

NEWPORT — More than 12 hours after a fast-moving fire started in the walls of the Wayfinder Hotel, firefighters continued to quell hot spots as investigators sought to determine what happened.

While the main blaze that shot flames through the roof in dramatic fashion Monday night was extinguished, a ladder truck crew from Newport kept a steady stream of water flowing into fourth-floor windows located on the front of the building. In the rear of the building, a similar truck from Middletown was doing the same Tuesday morning.

Paul Manning, an inspector with the R.I. State Fire Marshal's office, said the fire remains under investigation. He declined any further comment as firefighters continued to work around 8:30 a.m.

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A steady stream of water is trained on the fourth floor of the Wayfinder Hotel in Newport on Tuesday morning as firefighters target remaining hot spots. STORY, PAGE XA
A steady stream of water is trained on the fourth floor of the Wayfinder Hotel in Newport on Tuesday morning as firefighters target remaining hot spots. STORY, PAGE XA

According to an incident report issued by the Newport Fire Department late Tuesday morning the investigation includes the Newport Fire Marshal and Rhode Island State Fire Marshal with the Newport building inspector expected to be on scene later in the day.

"The fast moving fire moved through void spaces between floors and cockloft areas which made for difficult access," the report indicated.

The report also noted that fire crews would remain on scene with the expectation of hot spots being located throughout the day.

Monday's response

Madison Wood heard all the commotion Monday night and walked over from her nearby apartment building to see what was going on.

What she encountered was a massive, four-alarm blaze that drew nearly 100 firefighters across seven municipalities to the Wayfinder Hotel, which reopened after a complete renovation in July 2020.

“We just kept hearing the sirens, and we noticed people were coming over,” Wood said.

Fire Chief Harp Donnelly IV said late Monday night two firefighters were taken to the hospital with minor injuries, and that all guests at the hotel at 151 Admiral Kalbfus Road made their way out safely. When asked if there were any early indications of what caused the fire, Donnelly said it was “too soon to tell."

More: What to know about The Wayfinder Hotel in Newport, RI

Tuesday morning's report indicated three Newport firefighters were taken to the hospital including two with shoulders injuries and one member who received stitches to his leg. Another firefighter fell through a hole in a fourth-floor unit but was retrieved without injury.

The call came in around 8 p.m., and by midnight, crews were still at the scene preparing for a long night. Some of the firefighters were dousing the building from the ladder truck, while others could be seen inside knocking out windows on the second and third floors.

“We’re going to be here a while,” said Donnelly, who was promoted to chief in January.

Gallery: A look inside the reimagined Wayfinder Hotel

He said it was a “stubborn fire that traveled between the floors, in places you can’t readily get at.” When asked what percentage of the building was impacted, Donelly said, “100% of the building is going to be impacted by smoke damage, and it appears at this time that a third of the building has been impacted by fire.”

While the flames that were shooting out of the southern end building earlier in the evening had been extinguished, firefighters continued to pour water through the now-broken windows, setting off large plumes of smoke into the night sky.

In addition to Newport's response assistance at the scene came from Middletown, Portsmouth, Newport Navy, Bristol, Warren, North Kingston, Narragansett, Snug Harbor and East Greenwich. Crews from Warwick and additional units from North Kingston provided station coverage to handle other calls in the city.

Nearby resident Hilary Marshall could be seen smelling her hair as she watched alongside her mother, Susie Secondo. Marshall said she had a work event lined up at the Wayfinder later this week that will now need to be changed.

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“It’s sad for all of the employees and the owners,” Secondo said. “It’ll take years to rebuild. After this whole COVID thing, they probably had a full house coming (for Memorial Day).”

“This is a local place, and I feel bad for the people who this is their job, their livelihood,” Marshall said.

Donnelly highlighted the work of all the firefighters at the scene.

“The guys train for events like this all the time,” he said. “We’re lucky that we have a group of firefighters, and firefighters in other communities, who work hard and train hard and are prepared. You never hope this is going to happen, but you prepare in the event that it does.”

A woman takes a cellphone video of a four-alarm fire at the Wayfinder Hotel in Newport on Monday, May 23, 2022.
A woman takes a cellphone video of a four-alarm fire at the Wayfinder Hotel in Newport on Monday, May 23, 2022.

A man wearing a Wayfinder shirt, seemingly an employee, didn’t want to speak to a reporter. When asked what time the blaze began, he couldn’t remember.

“It’s all been just a blur since it started,” he said.

The 197-room Wayfinder is owned by Phil Hospod and his firm, Dovetail + Co., which purchased the hotel in January 2019 for $14.34 million. It was previously the Mainstay Hotel before undergoing a $16 million renovation that started in October 2019.

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The project included new walls, floor and ceilings, William Rademacher, who was general manager at the time, told The Daily News during a tour of the building in July 2020. The Haynes Group, Inc., of West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, oversaw the rebuild.

At the time of the reopening, the hotel had 70 full-time and part-time employees, a number that was expected to go up to 120, Rademacher said. There is also a restaurant inside the hotel, Nomi Park.

“We are making this a dynamic location,” Hospod said during the tour. “We’re excited to be part of the Newport community and intend to be here long-term.”

With reports from Daily News Executive Editor Will Richmond.

This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: Newport RI: Fire guts Wayfinder Hotel