Fire damages Oak Bluffs house

Firefighters responded to a fire at 24 Shawmut Ave. in Oak Bluffs early Saturday morning. - Robert Gatchell

Four people escaped an early-morning fire at 24 Shawmut Ave. in Oak Bluffs, Fire Chief John Rose told The Times.

Oak Bluffs fire responded to the fire at 5:49 am Saturday, Rose said. The fire started in the downstairs apartment, likely from a space heater, he said. The single occupant of the apartment alerted a family of three upstairs to the blaze, Rose said.

“We’re doing an investigation, but preliminary investigation indicates a space heater in downstairs room that’s looking to be the cause,” he said

There were no injuries.

“There were no working detectors that we could find,” the chief said. “The occupant of the downstairs apartment ran upstairs and woke them up.”

That downstairs apartment is a total loss, as is a nearby garage and two vehicles inside it, the chief said. “We stopped it before it got upstairs,” he said.

The upstairs apartment was not damaged, but can’t be occupied because the plumbing and electrical for the whole house was damaged by the fire.

“I’m just glad everyone’s okay,” building owner Bill Bernard told The Times Saturday morning.  Bernard said he was in Falmouth when he got a call from the downstairs tenant saying there had been a fire. He got the 9:30 boat and said when he arrived, the damage was much more extensive than he’d hoped it would be.

At about 10:45 am, Bernard was combing through the still-smouldering wreckage, trying to salvage family photos, soaked with water and foam. “This is the most important stuff to me,” he said, showing a an old photo of his son Anthony in his Little League uniform. In the stack was also a photo of Bernard himself, about aged 10, casting a surf rod twice his size at Squibnocket.  “I had a big storage tub of pictures of my kids growing up,” he said, digging into a pile of singed pile of snapshots in what used to be his office. “It makes me sick.”

Bernard was also concerned about the tenants in the upstairs apartment. “They were the best tenants you could have. They’ve been here close to 10 years. Where are they going to find housing?” he said.

The charred remains of a friend’s vintage Jeep, an almost vintage BMW, three vintage Indian motorcycles, outboard motors and several touring bicycles sat in the gutted garage, that had been a workshop. “He was so meticulous, every nut and bolt on that Jeep was restored,” he said.  

Bernard, owner of a landscape business, pointed to a shed about 15 feet from the wreckage, where he stored equipment. “There’s all kinds of equipment in there and gasoline, it could have been much worse.”

The fire comes at a particularly inopportune time, with Bernard just gearing up for the landscaping season. “I’ll be up and running soon,” he said. “I have to be.”