Fire destroys Cafe Moxie, badly damages Bunch of Grapes Bookstore
A fire early on the Fourth of July destroyed Cafe Moxie, a popular dining spot on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, and badly damaged the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore. Firefighters from all three down-Island towns responded.
Tisbury police Chief John Cashin said about 9 am Friday, a Tisbury police officer patrolling Main Street on a bicycle saw heavy smoke pouring from the basement of Cafe Moxie and called the Dukes County communications center to report a working fire.
Other Tisbury police officers were on the scene within minutes. They ran into adjacent buildings on both sides of the street to evacuate anyone inside. Many of the businesses were not open to the public yet. Chief Cashin said that, in the few minutes it took for Tisbury firefighters to arrive, flames quickly spread throughout the interior of Cafe Moxie. He saw the curtains catch on fire and then the ceiling.
Tisbury fire Chief John Schilling also arrived within minutes and began setting up the fire scene. He quickly called for mutual aid assistance from other Island fire departments.
First reports indicate that everyone got out of the buildings safely, but at 10:30 am firefighters were still battling the blaze, and had not had time to do a thorough search.
As the firefighters worked, flames shot through the roof of Cafe Moxie and eventually spread to a small part of the bookstore next door, where black smoke billowed from the second floor.
Austin Racine, chef and restaurant owner, was in the kitchen of Cafe Moxie when he smelled smoke shortly after 9 am.
“The whole dining room was full of smoke,” Mr. Racine said. “I ran downstairs, I couldn’t get downstairs. I ran and got a fire extinguisher. I got to the back door where I saw the flames and shot the fire extinguisher at it, but it was up in a matter of minutes.”
Firefighters used two ladder trucks and two pumpers in the congested downtown area. NSTAR turned off the power to most of the downtown area.
Mr. Racine, a well known and respected chef, and his partner Katrina Yekel began operating the popular restaurant this spring, after a complete renovation of the interior. They watched in horror from the street as firefighters worked to contain the blaze. Water from the firefighting effort poured out the front steps of their restaurant.
Tisbury emergency medical service personnel set up a first aid station in the alley next to the Capawock Theater, where they kept a close watch on firefighters working in very difficult conditions. At times smoke completely enveloped the two buildings and the streets around them. The, hot, humid weather made battling the blaze difficult. Firefighters exiting the bookstore after a shift inside the hot, smoky building spoke of “very intense heat,” inside. Emergency medical personnel checked vital signs and kept the firefighters hydrated. Other complications included utility wires and poles on Main Street, dangerous to firefighters working from the crane platforms of ladder trucks high above the street.
The fire came at a time when many Island fire companies were preparing to appear in a 4th of July parade in Edgartown. Instead, the were called to the fire on the congested and narrow Main Street of Vineyard Haven, in many ways a worst case scenario for firefighting.
“This is your worst fear,” said Tisbury selectman Denys Wortman, who traveled to the scene after hearing the call on a police scanner. “It was pretty obvious in a couple of seconds that it was going to be bad. This was supposed to be a happy day. This is your worst fear, beautiful old buildings, downtown street.”
Hundreds of people gathered behind police tape, perched on nearby balconies, and even rooftops, to watch the firefighters work. Many had hands covering their faces in obvious shock and sadness. The overwhelming sense of the onlookers was sorrow, at the sight of the two popular Vineyard Haven businesses damaged or destroyed, on a street lined with American flags. As the extent of the calamity became undeniable, Chief Cashin removed a large flag from in front of the burning buildings, and carried it across the street, so it would not be damaged by the smoke and water.
Although the bookstore building stands, much of the contents was damaged by smoke and water.