Aquinnah house is badly damaged in smoky blaze

The Thursday blaze closed the Aquinnah road for much of the afternoon. And how do you fight a fire with no fire hydrants?


Updated 1:15 pm, Friday

Firefighters from Aquinnah, West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Edgartown helped to extinguish a stubborn, smoky fire at a house under construction at 4 Towhee Lane in Aquinnah, off Moshup Trail, last Thursday.

Aquinnah Fire Chief Simon Bollin said the fire started about 2:16 pm when foam insulation being installed in the basement of the house ignited.

Despite copious amounts of smoke, the house was structurally intact, except for a partially collapsed segment of the first floor. The specific cause of the fire — why the insulation may have ignited — has not been determined.

Emergency vehicles from four towns lined Moshup Trail, with hoses snaking up Towhee Lane to the house fire. At the scene, with the fire almost out, firefighters bustled in and out of the basement and first floor of the building. Having sprayed so much water into the building, the crew had to set up pumps to get it all back out. Approximately four feet of water was left in the basement after six hours of fighting smoke and flames, Chief Bollin said.

The firefighting effort quickly emptied Aquinnah’s 20,000-gallon water reserve tank, according to West Tisbury firefighter Mike Fontes, after which the operation had to switch to water pumped from a pond along Lobsterville Road and relayed to the site by tankers.

“All the up-Island towns — there are no hydrants, so there’s no town water,” West Tisbury firefighter John Christiansen said as he oversaw the pumping-relay efforts on Lobsterville Road. He said they had sent dozens of 2,000-gallon loads to the site. “We have to constantly be moving water so we don’t lose the prime,” he said. “We’re so happy it’s not 20° colder, because it’s a real bear with everything freezing up.”

In total, Chief Bollin estimated that 50,000 gallons of water were used to extinguish the fire.

The house was recently purchased by Keith Oberg, who currently lives in Maryland, Chief Bollin said. Work was being done under the supervision of builder Kirk Freud. Mr. Freud quickly contacted Mr. Oberg to tell him that the house was on fire.

Chief Bollin spoke with Mr. Oberg around 10 pm that night, once things had settled down.

“He wasn’t upset, he just wanted to make sure all our guys were safe and no one got hurt,” Chief Bollin said. “He was concerned about the residents, and wanted to know what my theory was about what was saveable and what was not.”

“He was very appreciative that we saved what we could, and just wanted to know what the next step was for him,” Chief Bollin said.

An earlier version of this story reported the house on fire as being on Moshup Trail. The location is 4 Towhee Lane.