The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has joined the investigation into the Saturday night fire that destroyed the iconic Christmas Island Resort Motel, the seventh suspicious fire in Laconia in the last two weeks.
All fires have taken place on weekend overnights, and all have involved either commercial buildings or small out-buildings such as dumpsters, Fire Chief Kenneth Erickson said. He would not say they are connected, however, stressing they are under investigation.
"Obviously, people should be cognizant of the fact we could have a problem," Erickson said Monday. He urged residents to report any suspicious people to Laconia police and call 911 if they see any kind of fire.
The most recent fire was at a Weirs Boulevard motel, which closed last year after the summer-fall season.
It burst into flames about 9 p.m. Saturday night, a couple of hundred feet from the Christmas Island Steakhouse and North Pole Tavern, where a Laconia High School graduating class was holding its 30th reunion. Some alumni and restaurant customers were in the parking lot just minutes before the fire was reported, he said.
Erickson asked that anyone with photographs or digital images of the Saturday night fire email them to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erickson said there is no question the fire's origin is suspicious.
"It was unoccupied, there was no power (to the building), and it was pretty much fully involved in five minutes," he said.
He said it is not unusual for the BATF to become part of the investigation. Agents are working with the New Hampshire Fire Marshal's Office, Laconia fire and Laconia police, he said.
Erickson said five other suspicious nighttime fires took place this past weekend. One was Pitman's Freight Room, a nightclub and function hall on New Salem Street near the Laconia police station. Erickson said damage was about $20,000, and the business should reopen soon.
The other four were in the Water Street area of the city and involved a Dumpster, a shed, a storage building and a fence.
The previous weekend, a three-alarm fire destroyed Skate Escape, a roller-skating rink located on Court Street in downtown Laconia. "The devastation hit hard — memorabilia and all of our skate supplies, etc. were taken from us in the fire," the owners, Janine Page and Erica Duncan, wrote on the Skate Escape Facebook page the day after the fire.
That week, they had plans to announce an on-site reconfiguration and reconstruction, the two said in the post.
A fire also damaged the linen facility associated with Lakes Region General Hospital that weekend.