Flames damage home, but not family heirloom


Tisbury firefighters responded to a house fire at 87 Spring Hill Road Friday afternoon. They arrived at the one and three-quarter story wood shingled and clapboarded Cape Cod style home to find the roof aflame. The home was heavily damaged, but the structure remained standing. It was unoccupied at the time of the fire. No one was hurt.

Tisbury fire Chief John Schilling said the fire investigation is in its preliminary stage, and the cause of the blaze was still unknown yesterday.

Firefighters first attacked the flames from the interior of the home. After breaking open the front door, a three-man team entered the building and began pouring water on the fire. The powerful stream of water sometimes shot through the charred roof, propelling smoking embers across the fire scene. The stubborn fire repeatedly flared up again, until firefighters could deploy the department’s aerial tower. From the tower platform suspended in mid-air above the home, firefighters directed a heavy stream of water down into the flaming chimney and exterior wall, finally putting out the flames.

Chief Schilling said the frigid temperatures made it a very tough day to fight the fire, especially for the firefighters who went into the burning home, and came out wet and tired. The temperature was 20 degrees when firefighters arrived at the scene, and fell throughout the afternoon.

“Our concerns were the men going hypothermic,” said Chief Schilling. “We’re concerned about keeping everybody’s body temperature up. We were very fortunate that one of the neighbors opened up her house for the firefighters, so they could get warmed up.”

Another neighbor, Richard Dormitzer, discovered the fire, just before 1 pm. “I was bringing some things out of my car,” said Mr. Dormitzer. “I heard a puff, then I heard crackling, and I looked up.” Flames were already visible on the roof when Mr. Dormitzer called 9-1-1.

The residence was the home of Rose Anthony, a well known Island teacher who died in December of 2007. The home was listed for sale at $495,000.

Ms. Anthony moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1949, taught at the Tisbury School, then at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, until her retirement in 1986.

Relatives who arrived at the scene shed tears when they saw the damage. Among them was Janet Hathaway, Ms. Anthony’s daughter. Ms. Hathaway is familiar to many as the chairman of the Edgartown affordable housing committee and assistant to the board of health. She and other members of the family gathered for the Christmas holidays at the house last month. A holiday wreath hung unharmed just a few feet from the point where flames charred the clapboards.

“No one was hurt,” said Ms. Hathaway, brushing back tears. “The other homes are okay. My mother’s wreath is still there.”

The family recently made some improvements to the home, in preparation for the sale. Among them was a new front door, which firefighters had to break through to gain entry.

As she watched firefighters hose down the last of the flames, Ms. Hathaway suddenly remembered the one thing she had yet to remove from the home, the dress her mother wore when she married the late George Anthony of Oak Bluffs, less than two years after moving to Martha’s Vineyard.

“My mother wore it, I wore it, my sister wore it, and my daughter was going to wear it this summer,” said Ms. Hathaway, nearly overcome with the prospect of losing the wedding dress to fire damage. Some time later, after the fire was completely out, assistant fire chief James Rogers directed one of the firefighters into the home. With instructions provided by Ms. Hathaway, the firefighter went to an upstairs bedroom in the back of the house, the part that didn’t burn.

A few minutes later, he returned with the wedding dress, which was stored in a cardboard box, apparently undamaged by the water or flames.

Ms. Hathaway smiled broadly as she stood behind the yellow plastic tape used to cordon off the fire scene. Assistant chief Rogers carried the dress through the yard and handed it to Ms. Hathaway, who grabbed the box tightly and took it to her car for safekeeping.