Menemsha Galley damaged in early morning blaze
An early morning fire on Tuesday caused extensive damage to the Menemsha Galley on Menemsha Harbor. The popular ice cream and sandwich spot is now closed for the season.
Chilmark firefighters, already turned out for an earlier blaze, arrived on the scene quickly at about 3:30 am. West Tisbury and Aquinnah volunteer firefighters also leant a hand.
The fire was mostly confined to the second floor. Chilmark fire Chief David Norton said the fire originated on the second floor and may have been electrical in nature. The state fire marshal inspected the building later in the morning.
Tuesday was a busy day for Chilmark volunteer firefighters. They responded to an earlier fire in a house owned by Jacqueline Carlin on Stonewall Pond and were in the process of stowing equipment when they received a call to respond to the Galley. The firefighters were called out once more later that afternoon for a kitchen fire at a house on South Road.
Badly damage Galley in Menemsha will require extensive renovations. The early morning fire burned on the second floor, but water damage below was significant. Photos by Lynn Christoffers
Frank Fenner, the Chilmark selectman, his wife Merrily and sister Barbara purchased the Galley, a fixture on the picturesque harbor for years, in 1999. The Fenner family and an extended network of young people worked in the snack bar, which attracted long lines of regular Island patrons and visitors throughout the day.
Galley fare ranged from soft-serve ice cream to specialty sandwiches created by Barbara Fenner, a trained chef. A back porch provided comfortable seating and a view of the harbor. The Galley was open seven days a week. It normally remains open until Columbus Day weekend. As word of the fire filtered out through the community, friends and co-workers showed up to help with the cleanup.
Late in the sunny afternoon Tuesday, Mr. Fenner helped a worker nail plywood over broken windows in the second floor of the building.
"Will you reopen?" an onlooker asked.
"We will, but not this season," Mr. Fenner said. He speculated that the fire began in the AC-DC inverter cord that powered a portable phone on the second floor, or maybe a power strip nearby although, he said, it was a very heavy duty, commercial model.
Mr. Fenner had worked at his restaurant until about 11:30 pm Monday. He was asleep until he was roused by a call at about 3:30 am, telling him the Galley was burning.
"I was lucky the fire trucks were on their way from the other fire, because they got here very quickly, or it would certainly have been worse," Mr. Fenner said.
Family members yesterday told The Times they were happy no one was hurt and were grateful to the firefighters and the community of Martha's Vineyard for an overwhelming outpouring of help and support, some of it from people they did not know but would recognize as regular customers.
"As long as nobody was hurt," said Barbara Fenner. "It's a building and we can rebuild it and start again."
The Galley employees more than 25 young people throughout the summer season. For some, it is their first job. Merrily Fenner said that quite a few of her young employees showed up Tuesday to help out. "They are just wonderful kids," she said. "We are just lucky. We have a great crew and we have a lot of fun."
The employees will not be out of work for long. Would-be employers who need help and want to help have already called, she said.
Ms. Fenner said the second floor is gone but the first floor is intact though it suffered extensive water damage. She credits the firefighters with saving the building. "The firefighters were just fabulous, they saved it and they saved our whale."
The whale is a sign that has a long history, she said.
Friends showed up to help remove merchandise and equipment from the building early Tuesday. Kevin Oliver, owner of the Menemsha Market, served snacks and drinks to firefighters.
The Galley season had been very busy, and the season was going well until this week. The early morning call came as a shock.
"We had an incredible night the night before with the kids. The sunset was one of the most glorious we'd ever seen, and we were taking pictures of the kids," she said. "No matter how busy we are, we try to always make sure that everybody gets to check out that sunset. And we just had a beautiful night."
On Wednesday, Mr. Fenner said that the response to the fire by West Tisbury and Aquinnah volunteers was a wonderful example of the type of regional town cooperation that is so important. "We need to build on that," he said.
Chilmark fire chief David Norton did not get much sleep on Tuesday. Chilmark firefighters responded to a call at the Carlin house, billed as a wedding venue, for a smoldering kitchen cabinet over a propane stove.
"That was two in the morning," said Mr. Norton.
The firefighters returned to the Chilmark fire station. Mr. Norton said he thought he was hearing things when his pager sounded for a second time.
"We were straightening out our gear and still here at the station when the second call came, close to 3:30 about a structure fire at the Galley," he said.
Mr. Norton said the Chilmark crew did a good job of knocking the fire down with assistance from West Tisbury and Aquinnah. "They brought water and another pumper, which came in handy," said Mr. Norton. "We were able to get it under control in a short period of time, and then it was salvage and overhaul for the rest of the evening."
He estimated that more than 30 firefighters and EMS personnel responded.
"I can't thank the people who turned out enough," said Chief Norton. "It is overwhelming what people will do, especially in the middle of the night, then they have to go off and work at their daily jobs and go on with their daily routines and daily life."
He added, "It takes a lot out of us once in a while, and I appreciate all the help we can get."
Mr. Norton said that approximately12 hours later that afternoon, firefighters responded to a report of a stove fire off South Road. "Some of us were still at the second call," he said. "So we got called out three times in one day. That has never happened before."
Mr. Norton said that it was difficult to see the Galley destroyed.
"It kind of hit us all, " he said. "Because we all like to go down there and have lunch or a snack once in a while, and Frank and family are great people. They help out the community in so many ways."