Three work vehicles burn in Tisbury; arson blamed

A dump truck, an excavator, and a pickup truck were destroyed in a fire sometime late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, that investigators suspect was set. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Investigators from the office of the State Fire Marshall arrived on Martha’s Vineyard Monday to assist local fire officials investigating the destruction of three vehicles parked at the end of Evelyn Way off State Road in Tisbury.

A dump truck, an excavator, and a pickup truck sat blackened and charred Sunday in an isolated lot owned by Vineyard Engineering and used to store various pieces of work equipment. Arson was the cause.

“The fire was determined to be an intentionally set fire,” Jennifer Mieth, public information officer for the state fire marshall told The Times Tuesday. Ms. Mieth said investigators would welcome help from the community.

“The matter is under active investigation. Everything’s been collected from the scene, documented, and being sent back to be analyzed,” Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling told The Times in a telephone call Monday. “It’s definitely suspicious, there is no question about it.”

Chief Schilling said the fire occurred sometime late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, but it was not discovered until a workman arrived in the area about 10 am Sunday morning and discovered the destruction.

“It is hard to believe that three vehicles could burn as extensively as these did, and nobody saw or heard anything,” Mr. Schilling said. Heavy rain that fell early Sunday may have helped mask the fire, he added.

“We are not sure how or when the fire started,” assistant Tisbury fire chief and arson investigator Jim Rogers said.

Fire investigators are checking for security cameras in the area.

Hard to believe

In a telephone call Monday, Reed Silva, co-owner with Adrian Higgins of the excavation, site work, and landscaping business, was still trying to understand why anyone would commit such a destructive act of vandalism that targeted hard-working people.

“I am still just amazed that number one, it happened, and number two, no one smelled anything,” he said.

The fire destroyed a Chevy dump truck owned by Vineyard Engineering, a mini-excavator owned by an employee of the company, and a pickup truck the company gave to an employee for use on the Island. It was not yet registered. The men also lost an expensive piece of grading equipment, worth approximately $6,000.

The lot is bordered by the town landfill to the south. Barnes Trucking and MV Autoworks and Angels’ Auto Body line the entrance road.

Mr. Silva said he is amazed that a fire that would have generated considerable smoke and fumes could go undiscovered until the next day. “You are talking grease and oil, that stuff does not burn clean,” he said. “There are not that many houses around there, but still I would have thought that someone would have smelled something.”

Mr. Silva estimates the company lost more than $15,000 in equipment. That figure does not include the time and aggravation wrapped up in paperwork, cleanup, and purchasing new equipment.

“The thing that is crazy is we just bought that truck two days ago,” he said. “We bought it on Thursday from Tim Creato, titled it on Friday, and I think Adrian took one ride in it. It’s a total loss, too. It’s unbelievable.”

Mr. Silva said that beyond the loss of equipment is the loss of a sense of security. “For years, everybody has been able somewhat to keep things on a pretty open platform, and now it seems like we have to put up fences, cameras, lights, and everything else to make sure your stuff does not get stolen or ruined.”

Mr. Silva said he could not imagine why anyone would target the business. For now, it appears to be a case of outright vandalism.

“I’ve thought about it quite a bit, and there is just nothing that points in the direction of someone specifically trying to damage our business,” he said. “We are at a loss. I’d like to think its senseless vandalism, and it looks like that to me.”

Mr. Silva said most residents of the Vineyard like to think it is different, that it is more immune to these types of acts. He said he has heard of acts of vandalism but does not recall anything to this degree.

Apart from the expense and aggravation, Mr. Silva says there is something unquantifiable. “I mean, I hope they do find them, but at the same time you are really disappointed one way or the other,” he said. “You just can’t believe that this stuff happened on Martha’s Vineyard. A lot of people live with open doors and they don’t worry about their stuff as much, and I just see it as one of those things, that you just say, I guess this is the way life is on Martha’s Vineyard now.”

Adrian Higgins agreed. Losing the sense of personal security that most Vineyard residents take for granted is more disturbing than the loss of equipment.

Mr. Higgins said that although he thinks the fire was a senseless act of vandalism he could not help shake the notion in the back of his mind that he might be a target and have to worry when he was at home with his family. “You don’t think you are going to succumb to that, but you do,” he said.

Tips sought

Fire Chief Schilling asked that anyone with any information call the Tisbury Police department at 508-696-4240.

Ms. Mieth said the state’s arson hotline, 1-800-682-9229, is confidential and available around the clock. The Arson Watch Reward program funded by the state’s insurance industry provides a reward for up to $5,000 for information that helps to solve arson investigations.