Sunday afternoon brush fire in West Tisbury started in mulch

Photo by Maddie Alley

With winds gusting exceeding 30 mph Sunday afternoon, West Tisbury firefighters, assisted by firefighters from Chilmark, Aquinnah, and Tisbury, moved quickly to douse a fast-moving brush fire that broke out behind a house at 31 Halcyon Way in a wooded area between the West Tisbury School and Island Children’s School off Old County Road.

“It looks like it started in a mulch pile that got dropped off a couple of days ago,” West Tisbury Fire Chief Manuel Estrella told the Times in a phone call Monday.

“It was a very fast moving fire,” Chief Estrella said. “We were very, very lucky. The guys did a great job stopping it on both ends, over by the West Tisbury School, the four buses that were there, and next to a fuel tank on Halcyon Way.”

West Tisbury Police Lieutenant Matt Mincone said the fact there was no damage to property or individuals had much to do with a fortuitous change in wind direction and quick work by firefighters from four Island towns.

The Halcyon homeowner reported smoke in the area. The call for firefighters to respond to a brush fire behind Island Children’s School on Halcyon way came in at 1:50 pm. Little league ballplayers were just preparing to use the ball field adjacent to the West Tisbury School.

Gauging the wind direction, Lieutenant Mincone drove to the school parking lot. When he arrived, he saw flames moving through the brush in the direction of a row of four parked school buses. “The flames were literally ten yards from the buses,” he said.

Mr. Mincone called Chief Estrella on the radio and asked him to direct a fire truck to the buses immediately. “And as I said it and he [Chief Estrella] pulled in, the wind shifted,” Mr. Mincone said. “If the wind did not shift when it did there is no doubt in my mind we would have had a horror show,” he said.

Chief Estrella said that when he first drove into the school, “you couldn’t see across the road with all the smoke and there were still people playing tennis and Little League going on. It was just unbelievable. But it all worked out good.”

Mr. Mincone safely evacuated all of the young ballplayers from the playing fields. A State Police officer evacuated a cleaning person in the Island Children’s School.

Aquinnah Police Sergeant Paul Manning, who happened to be driving by at the time, assisted Lieutenant Mincone by closing off Old County Road due to the hazardous driving conditions created by thick smoke blowing over the roadway.

The flames changed direction and began moving towards the West Tisbury School, then shifted towards Old County Road. Lieutenant Mincone said firefighters from four departments essentially surrounded the unpredictable blaze which he estimated consumed about two acres of brush by the time it was extinguished.

“Aquinnah was there, their fire department, Chilmark, Tisbury, and West Tisbury. I mean they surrounded this thing because you didn’t know where it was going from one time to another,” he said, “And it was going hard.”