House fires keep firefighters on the hop
Fire damaged a house in Tisbury late Thursday afternoon. On Friday a blaze destroyed a house in Oak Bluffs. And Monday flames broke out in a house in Edgartown.
Fire officials have not said that any of the fires appeared to be suspicious. But three major fires in five days was unusual for the Vineyard. Firefighters were kept busy, either responding to the first call or assisting and backing up the responding town's department.
Tisbury teen leads family to safety
Waking up from a nap to the sight of flames, Rafaela Oliveira, age 17, led her sight-impaired grandmother and 8-year-old sister Brianna to safety after reporting a fire in their rental home at 195 Spring Street in Vineyard Haven, at 5:47 pm last Thursday.
The fire started in a rear bedroom in an addition at the back of the one-and-a-half story Cape-style house. It intensified quickly, with flames shooting out the windows and roof, completely destroying the addition. Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling said the rest of the house sustained heat, smoke, and water damage, but remained structurally sound.
There were 50 to 60 first responders on the scene for three hours, including about 28 Tisbury firefighters, Tisbury police and emergency medical technicians, and ladder companies from the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown fire departments, Chief Schilling reported.
"It was a good team effort by all of the departments," he said. "It was very labor intensive during the overhaul stage, where we were ripping down walls and hauling debris out, and the extra manpower provided by the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs departments was critical in getting us through that phase."
Chief Schilling also praised Rafaela for her quick thinking and cool head in handling the emergency. She told him that her first impulse was to try to put the fire out. But when she saw how quickly the fire was growing, she made the decision to get her family members out instead - the right decision, the fire chief said.
"She's a hero, to wake up and see flames, and to have a level head to deal with something like that," said landlord Carroll (Petey) Berndt. Although he lives on the property, Mr. Berndt was off at a tennis lesson when the fire started. When he arrived home, some of the first responders told him that only moments before, firefighters were standing in the front yard, debating about whether to try to save the house or let it burn down.
After calling 911, Rafaela also called her mother, Jura, who had gone out on a quick errand. Mr. Berndt said the reality of what her daughter said didn't impress itself on Ms. Oliveira until she saw the flames as she drove up to the house.
Next door neighbor Eric Medeiros, who happens to be a volunteer firefighter, helped by keeping water running over a propane tank outside the addition, Mr. Berndt said. Other neighbors also reported the fire and rushed over to offer assistance to the family.
Mr. Berndt said yesterday he is very grateful for the quick response by all of the first responders. He will thank them by providing dinner for them when Coop DeVille, his restaurant in Oak Bluffs, reopens this spring.
"I also want to offer my heartfelt thanks for the outpouring from the Island community," Mr. Berndt said. People responded quickly to the family's plight, he said. Their pastor, Valci Carvalho of the Alliance Community Church in Oak Bluffs, rushed to the scene of the fire to offer help.
The Vineyard Harbor Hotel offered to house the family for a few days, and their church has continued to pay for their stay there, Mr. Carvalho said. Students at Tisbury School and the regional high school donated lunch money toward the family's motel costs, Mr. Berndt added.
Both schools have donated clothing and belongings to the Oliveiras, as well. Perhaps the most generous and heartfelt gift of all came from the Medeiros's five-year-old son Matthew, who gave Brianna his favorite teddy bear.
Mr. Berndt, who coaches under-eight soccer in West Tisbury, said his soccer team has offered to chip in with donations to the family. Garry Metters, a fellow soccer coach and owner of the Bowl and Board, and his wife Maria have been very helpful as well, he added.
The Oliveiras have lived at the Spring Street home for eight years. "It's the only home Brianna has ever known," said Mr. Berndt. "We're in desperate need to find them a year-round two-bedroom apartment until we resolve what will happen with the house."
The Oliveiras lost all of their possessions, including jewelry, cash, documents, and clothing, in the fire. Mr. Berndt, who had just recently finished renovations on the house and addition, said he lost furnishings such as antique furniture and toys. "You realize it's just stuff - what's important is that everyone was okay," Mr. Berndt said.
Chief Schilling said the cause of the fire is under investigation. Mr. Berndt said that although he does not know yet whether the house is salvageable, he has contractors lined up to start rebuilding it once his insurance claims are settled.
Home destroyed in Oak Bluffs blaze
On Friday night, fire destroyed a single-family home at 88 Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road in Oak Bluffs. Oak Bluffs Assistant Fire Chief Anthony (Tony) Ferreira said the fire started at the east end of the house. By the time it was reported at 4:07 pm, he said it had spread to more than 50 percent of the house. The house's owner, Ron Gamba, was not home at the time. Unfortunately, neither were his neighbors, who might have reported the fire earlier, the assistant chief said.
The two-story house contained a tremendous amount of combustible materials, with wood beams, ceilings and flooring, and little fire-resistant material. Although the house is still standing, Assistant Chief Ferreira said for all intents and purposes, it is a total loss.
About 30 Oak Bluffs firefighters responded to the scene with four engines and a ladder truck. Although extinguishing the flames took about 40 minutes to an hour, extensive overhaul to make sure the fire was contained took the firefighters almost four hours, the assistant chief said. No one was injured.
"It was a difficult fire to fight, with the amount of flame, and smoke, and involvement," Assistant Chief Ferreira said. 'The firefighters did a great job and worked really hard - to be there for four hours after a long day at work on their other jobs is tough."
Mr. Gamba could not be reached for comment. Although the cause of the fire is under investigation, Assistant Chief Ferreira said, there are no indications of anything suspicious.
On Monday at approximately 4 pm, Edgartown firefighters received a call that heavy smoke was coming from the gable ends of an unoccupied house on Ocean Boulevard by the intersection of 21st street. Due to the amount of smoke and flames, assistant fire chief Alex Schaeffer called for mutual aid from the town of Oak Bluffs.
The firefighters donned air packs and began an interior attack. However the firefighters were withdrawn from inside the building due to structural weakness, said Mr. Schaeffer.
Edgartown and Oak Bluffs firefighters continued to battle the blaze. At times bright orange flames and volumes of thick, choking smoke poured from the house.
Mr. Schaeffer said that firefighters were able to contain the fire to the center of the house, thereby minimizing damage. "Overall, it was a great stop by all personnel, said Mr. Schaeffer. He said help from the Oak Bluffs firefighters was appreciated.
Firefighters were able to leave the scene by 7:30 pm. Yesterday, Edgartown Fire Chief Peter Shemeth said the fire remains under investigation, but at this point it does not appear to be suspicious.
According to town records, the house is owned by Karen Kaufmann of New York. She could not be reached for comment.