Alert driver calls in early morning fire in Edgartown


An alert newspaper delivery driver and quick work by firefighters helped avert a potentially devastating fire in downtown Edgartown early Sunday morning.

Edgartown fire chief Peter Shemeth said firefighters responded at approximately 4 am, to a report of a fire at 37 Main Street, also known as the Desire Osborn House, which dates back to 1776. The building’s tenants include Carroll and Vincent Real Estate and Insurance Agency, Petunia’s shoe store and Past and Presents antique store.

Jennifer Dickey was delivering newspapers when she spotted a trashcan on fire. The trashcan was next to a wooden fence on a town sidewalk, adjacent to the building, that leads to a back parking lot.

“What probably happened is that when the bars closed, somebody walking up Main Street put a cigarette out and tossed it in there,” Chief Shemeth said. “And it just smoldered for that long a period of time until it ignited whatever was inside the trash container.”

The fire spread along the fence and started the side of the building on fire where electrical service entered the structure. That presented a problem for firefighters who could not use water until the power was shut off. Firefighters used chemical extinguishers to knock down the flames.

The fire shorted out power and fortunately caused a transformer on Main Street to blow out as well, the chief said, allowing firefighters to bring water to bear on the flames. “It had just started to burn its way into the attic,” he said.

Firefighters were able to avoid any interior damage to the first and second floors.

“It was an excellent save, considering how old the building is and how dry the timber is,” Mr. Shemeth said.

Any fire in the congested downtown area automatically signals a call for mutual aid from Tisbury and Oak Bluffs. Both towns responded. Edgartown reciprocates by responding to similar calls in the down-Island towns.

“It’s reassuring to know that if it was totally engulfed in flames, we would have had the extra manpower and equipment on the way,” Chief Shemeth said. “It was very fortunate that it happened at that particular time and that she (Ms. Dickey) did see it and call it in. I would say another ten minutes and it would have been inside the building, and it would have been a lot more difficult to contain and extinguish.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust is the principal owner of the Desire Osborn house. Preservation Trust executive director Chris Scott said he received an early morning call of a building engulfed in flames — his worst fear. He said that when he arrived he saw the flames race up the side of the building to the shingles of a building he said is the oldest on Main Street.

Although the building has a fire alarm, the location of the fire outside the building did not immediately set it off. Mr. Scott said Ms. Dickey’s timely alert provided precious minutes firefighters needed to save the building. He had high praise for firefighters. “I was enormously impressed with the professionalism and care they took putting out the fire and minimizing damage to the building,” he said. “We got off very lucky.”