When Lewis Codding left for a trip to the dump Tuesday afternoon, he could have no idea what he would find when he returned to his Codding Lane home in Tisbury, 15 or 20 minutes later. He found his home ablaze.
“When I came up the street, I knew it was gone,” said Mr. Codding as he stood with his wife Pat in front of the fire-ravaged home yesterday. “We’ve owned it for 30 years; there’s a lot of memories.”
Mr. Codding tried to enter the burning house to give his pets a chance to escape. “I have four cats,” he said. “I wanted to be sure they could get out. I know one got out.” But he quickly realized there was no hope of getting further than the front door. “I couldn’t walk past the entrance. There was black smoke. Whatever did it went real quick.”
Emergency medical personnel checked Mr. Codding for injuries at the scene. He did not require a visit to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
Mr. Codding was at a loss to explain what happened. “I don’t know what could have caused it,” he said. “I don’t have a wood stove, the dryer wasn’t on. I’m very paranoid about fires. I had one chimney fire 25 years ago, and I got rid of the wood stove.”
Despite the best work of firefighters from four Island towns, there was little hope of saving the one and three-quarter story wood shingled structure, according to Tisbury fire chief John Schilling, who, along with assistant chief James Rogers, were first to the fire scene.
“Fire was rolling out the first floor windows and basement at that time,” said Chief Schilling. “The house is a total loss.” He said fighting the fire was strictly a defensive effort. “Tough conditions,” said the chief. “It was an icy dirt road, very treacherous to get in there.”
The Tisbury department of public works responded with sand trucks, laying a heavy coat of sand along narrow Codding Lane.
The cold weather offered other obstacles for firefighters and their equipment. “You’ve got to keep water moving at all times so things don’t freeze up. That’s one of the critical things,” said Chief Schilling. “The worst part of the fire was the footing. We weren’t able to get sand anywhere near the house. The water that runs off the building freezes.”
Chief Schilling said it was fortunate that no firefighters were hurt. “We were out there for five hours. That’s when injuries happen, guys are tired,” he said.
With no fire hydrants near, there was no strong and reliable source of water, preventing chief Schilling from sending firefighters inside to attack the flames.
Firefighters had to depend on tanker trucks from West Tisbury and Chilmark to transport water to the scene. The trucks quickly relayed water from wells in West Tisbury to a portable pool set up about 100 yards from the burning house. A Tisbury pumper truck pumped water from the pool through fire hoses to the scene of the blaze.
“It’s not the style of firefighting we’re used to in Tisbury,” said Chief Schilling. “We have a newfound respect for what they have to deal with in West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah on a regular basis.”
Mass Highway also responded to sand State Road, which became icy from water spilling from the tanker trucks on their way back and forth to the fire scene.
In addition to the entire contingent of six trucks from Tisbury, two from West Tisbury, and another from Chilmark, the Oak Bluffs fire department sent a truck and personnel to cover the Tisbury fire station, in case of another emergency.
“Help comes from all corners,” said Chief Schilling.
Pat and Lewis Codding are well known in Tisbury. Mr. Codding is a dock worker for the Steamship Authority. Ms. Codding works for the Black Dog Tall Ships, on the Vineyard Haven waterfront.
The said they were grateful to the firefighters, medical personnel and others who responded to the call for help, as well as the many friends who have offered support.
“I don’t want to forget them, that’s the most important thing,” said Mr. Codding. “I just want to thank people. I wish there was more words to say. I’m overwhelmed, and really humbled.”
Among the friends who are coordinating efforts to help the Codding family are Orlaith and Keith Estes, and Sandi Hakala. Ms. Estes asked those who would offer help to call her at 508-693-3721, or call Ms. Hakala at 508-693-8827.