Christmas day blaze destroys West Tisbury house

The Christmas day fire left the house in ruins. — Photo by Alan Brigish

A Christmas day blaze destroyed a four-bedroom house in the Deep Bottom subdivision in West Tisbury. Volunteer firefighters from four towns responded to the report of a fire late Saturday night.

The owners, Dr. Deeb Salem and Patricia Salem of Lincoln, are seasonal residents. They were visiting the Island with three of their children, but the family was not at home at the time the fire started. There were no reported injuries.

But, a pet Portuguese water dog named Roger died in the fire, the family said.

A Chilmark volunteer firefighter who saw the fire’s glow as he drove along Edgartown-West Tisbury Road drove into the subdivision to investigate. He stopped at the house of Deep Bottom resident Alan Brigish, to confirm the address and report the fire about 10:15 pm.

West Tisbury fire Chief Manuel Estrella, reached at the station house late Sunday morning, said the fire is under investigation.

“There’s not much yet,” Chief Estrella said Sunday, in response to a question about the cause of the blaze. “It seems like it started in the center of the house and went right up through.”

James Rogers, assistant Tisbury fire chief and a fire investigator, said the fire remains under investigation today.

Firefighters from West Tisbury, Chilmark, Tisbury and Edgartown responded to the call of a fully involved house fire, at about 10:15 pm at 32 South Pond Road. Chilmark furnished a tank truck, and Edgartown ferried water from the airport.

Chief Estrella confirmed that a water hydrant in the subdivision failed to provide water. “We just let them know a couple of weeks ago that it wasn’t working, that’s why we went to the airport,” Mr. Estrella said. “Even with that we never ran out of water.”

A quiet Christmas Day, at home with family and friends, did not affect the volunteer response. “We had tons of guys,” an appreciative Mr. Estrella said. “A good crew from all the towns came.”

Knock on the door

In a telephone conversation late Sunday morning, Mr. Brigish said he was just about to go to bed when there was a loud banging on his front door. There was a guy standing outside, and he said, ‘Your neighbor’s house is on fire.’ I went out and took a look and sure enough, the whole center of the house was ablaze coming through the roof.”

Mr. Brigish said his house is on a cul de sac well off the main road. He said the unexpected visitor identified himself only as a Chilmark fireman and said he had seen the fire from Edgartown-West Tisbury Road and had knocked on the door to get an address.

The firefighter, whom Chief Estrella identified for The Times as Jeffrey Lynch, made a call on his cell phone. Mr. Brigish called on his house phone. He said that when he reached the communications center, folks there had had no report of the fire.

“He asked if there was anybody in the house,” Mr. Brigish said of Mr. Lynch. Mr. Brigish told Mr. Lynch that he had seen his neighbors earlier in the day. Mr. Lynch and another man sitting in his truck ran over to the house. When they returned, they said they had not seen anyone in the house.

Police, EMTs and firefighters soon arrived. Mr. Brigish said his wife Joyce was able to reach the homeowners at the home of Patricia Salem’s sister in West Tisbury.

Mr. Brigish said firefighters were able to bring the fire under control quickly but stayed well into the night attempting to extinguish it. “It’s still smoldering now,” he said during the Sunday conversation.

In a later conversation, Mr. Brigish told The Times that he learned that Mr. Lynch ran into the house looking for people. “That, I think, is pretty amazing,” Mr. Brigish said.

Mr. Brigish said that had no fire not been discovered it might have set the woods on fire. “I feel very grateful to this guy,” he said.

Mr. Lynch could not be reached for comment.

A holiday visit

Patricia Salem and her sister arrived on the Island last Tuesday. Her husband, Dr. Deeb Salem, a cardiologist and chief of medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine, and three of the couple’s four sons arrived Thursday to spend the Christmas holiday together.

In a telephone call Sunday afternoon, Ms. Salem said the family had Christmas dinner at another sister’s house Christmas night.

She said it is fortunate that there were no people in the house when the fire started. “You always have to count your blessings,” Ms. Salem said.

She said the family is very sad about Roger. “He was a very beautiful Portuguese water dog, and my son was very devoted to him,” she said.

Ms. Salem said the family has not learned anything about how the fire started. She said the family has owned a house on the Vineyard since 1999.

“We would like to thank the firefighters for coming out on Christmas night,” Mrs. Salem said. “They could not have been more professional or kinder to each and every one of us.”