Fire destroys Chilmark house
The smell of burned wood lingered in the air days after Saturday's fire gutted this Chilmark house. Photo by Ezra Blair
Fire department officials declared a house off Middle Road on Hewing Field in Chilmark "a total loss" after a blaze ignited in a downstairs bedroom early Saturday morning.
No one was injured, but it took firefighters from Chilmark and West Tisbury, with support from Aquinnah and Tisbury, several hours to get the fire under control.
Firefighters used four pumper trucks and three tanker trucks on rotating shifts to extinguish the fire. The trucks had to drive to a stream about half a mile away to refill their water tanks to battle the fire. The blaze was so intense that several hotspots reignited and had to be hosed down again on Sunday morning.
David Norton, Chilmark fire chief, said that the fire started in an unoccupied lower-level bedroom in the house, but that the exact cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Owners Mark Hurwitz and Susan Puciul were at home with three of their four children when the fire started. Smoke detectors, which began blaring at about 4 am, alerted the family to the growing inferno.
On Tuesday, Ms. Puciul said that the first thing that went through her mind as she raced out of the burning house were the family's photos. "As we were rushing out of the house, and it was so quick, all I could think of were the photos," she said. "We have a close, large family, baby pictures of the four kids, and that's all I could think of."
Ms. Puciul said that her husband tried to go back for the photos, but the fire had already grown too large to go back into the house.
After escaping the blaze the family went next door to their guesthouse where Mr. Hurwitz's parents live. "We just sat up there with a birds eye view and watched it burn," said Ms. Puciul.
Along with the house, which Mr. Hurwitz began building 15 years ago, the family lost countless possessions. "We had things like a painting that my father-in-law, who is an artist, did of his wife the very first day that he met her," said Ms. Puciul.
But ultimately, all was not lost. "After watching for five and a half hours as they hosed it all down, a firefighter came over to me with a box of photos," said Ms. Puciul. "He had saved them, and friends helped peel them apart and cut off the charred edges. Our entire lawn ended up covered with photos drying out in the sun."
While the family's loss was extraordinary, Ms. Puciul said that the most overwhelming part of the entire experience was the outpouring of support from the community. "This is a heavenly community for a tragedy," she said. "People do amazing things. It's really above and beyond what you could imagine. We're overwhelmed with their support and kindness."
A thank-you letter to the community from Mr. Hurwitz and Ms. Pucuil appears on page 5 in today's Times.
In the letter they wrote, "The outpouring of love and support has truly eclipsed the difficulty of our loss."
Along with the words of thanks, the family urged other Islanders to make sure their smoke detectors are working properly. It was a message repeated by Chief Norton. "Check your smoke detectors," he said. "Check them often. Replace the batteries often. This is a good example of why it is important."
Chief Norton said that families should also make sure they have safe exits for each room in the house. He said that families should also establish a meeting place outside the house where they can gather after evacuating.