Updated Jan. 15
Tisbury firefighters responded to a fire at 209 Franklin St. Friday afternoon and encountered a compartmentalized cellar heaped with smoldering debris. Neighbors were the first to see smoke issuing out through the first floor of the building, according to Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling.
The Tisbury Fire Department was joined on the call by firefighters from Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. West Tisbury covered the Tisbury fire station during the fire. Eleven people were evacuated from the building and received onsite shelter inside a special Oak Bluffs Fire Department vehicle.
“There were people in the house that weren’t aware there was a fire,” Schilling said.
The fire was isolated to a space in the cellar that had been partitioned in a “nontraditional fashion,” Schilling said. Firefighters encountered “a significant amount of hoarding” in that partitioned space, which impeded their access, Schilling said. As a result, firefighters had to clear out debris and garbage to combat the fire and ensure nobody was trapped, he said. Some of this debris was brought out onto the front yard of the property, where it was hosed down. Firefighters later hosed themselves down to remove contaminants from their turnout gear.
Schilling said the fire started from multiple overtaxed extension cords plugged into each other and covered by debris in the cellar.
The Red Cross was called in to help the occupants because the building was no longer habitable after the fire was extinguished — the utilities had been turned off.
Chief Schilling returned to the property on Saturday with wiring inspector Ray Gosselin and health agent Maura Valley, Valley told The Times. Upon examining the property, Valley ordered it condemned.
In addition to the lack of water and heat due to the utility cut, Valley said she encountered several violations, including “serious” overcrowding of the building.
“I counted at least 13 bedrooms, not including the outbuildings,” she said. The property is only permitted eight, she said. One person who came to collect his belongings while the town officials conducted their inspection said he thought 18 people lived in the main house and its outbuildings, Valley said.
Owner Roni Deluz once operated the building as a B and B or an inn, Valley said, but from what the inspection showed, it looked more like the place was divided into efficiencies. She noted that microwaves, hot plates, and refrigerators were evident in individual spaces.
In a statement emailed to The Times Tuesday afternoon, Deluz thanked firefighters, first responders, and the Red Cross for their prompt response to “what could have been a fatal disaster.”
“I feel very sad for all of us being displaced,” she said. “The fire originated in the basement as a result of a tenant who had a problem with hoarding, among other things; he also had a serious neurological condition. I had taken measures to remove the tenant in the basement for more than a year. Four agencies were aware of my efforts, and agreed that the tenant was dangerous, not only to themself, but to others. Two of those agencies recently were in support that the tenant be removed. I even went to court to have the tenant removed the week before the fire, and no one showed up to court besides myself and my son. It’s very difficult because of Massachusetts state law in favor of tenants. I did my part to offer affordable, and oftentimes, free year-round housing. My tenants were like family. I feel that I have given a lot to the community. The system failed me. My main concern is for safety, being able to re-enter my home as quickly as possible with support. I thank God no one was hurt and am praying for a quick recovery.”
The hoarding was limited to a portion of the cellar, Valley said. The rest of the building was not choked with debris.
Valley said she considered it luck that the fire didn’t become a tragedy, and lauded the Red Cross for finding the displaced inhabitants new lodging.
She said she plans to work with Schilling, Gosselin, and building inspector Ken Barwick to put together a list of corrective measures that must be taken before the building can be occupied again.
Updated with a statement from the property owner. –Ed.