Updated Jan. 25
Downed wires ignited Menemsha Market Thursday night after a utility pole toppled in the midst of a storm that featured gusts of more than 60 mph. Firefighters staged nearby, but initially couldn’t approach the building due to the extreme danger of arcing wires and a river of rain flowing down North Road near to them, Deputy Fire Chief Tim Carroll said.
Landlords Debbie Packer and Howie Grimm managed to evacuate their home behind the market. Packer said she was able to get to the parking lot of the Home Port across the street, but her husband was trapped for a time. Chilmark Police Detective Jesse Burton deserves the credit for rescuing Grimm with his cruiser. He was “so calm,” braving high voltage danger, she said.
Packer said a pole, which she described as being at a tilt for some time, went over in the wind and rain, severing one line, then ripping down another on its way down. The other line, which was near the Galley, then started “dripping fire” onto the porch roof of the Menemsha Market. “That’s what ignited the wall,” she said, referencing the scorched lower left-hand façade of the market, where the fire appears to have penetrated the interior.
The call came in at about 4:40 pm, Carroll said. Carroll said by the time he arrived, there was a “ball of fire” in a field next to the market, where the line and a transformer had fallen. Chilmark Fire Lt. Scott McDowell said, “It was raining incredibly hard.” Packer described the line snaked across the field as being consumed by a blue flame. The next day, a wire-width depression could be seen seared into the soggy field. Eversource spokesman Reid Lamberty told The Times what fell was an 8,000-volt primary distribution line.
Once Eversource cut the power, Chilmark firefighters, who were joined by crews from Aquinnah and West Tisbury, knocked down the fire and saved the building. Lamberty said Eversource cut power at 4:48 pm.
Lt. McDowell gave a lot of credit to Eversource crews who, he said, restored power in about two hours. When The Times visited the scene the night of the incident, linemen on seven different trucks were repairing the lines and installing a new pole.
Kevin Oliver, who runs the seasonal market with his wife Liz, said he waited at bay alongside the firefighters because of the high voltage danger. When assessing the damage the next day, he told The Times there was no stock inside, but racks, shelves, and displays were ruined. He said it can all be repaired or replaced.
“I was so frightened,” Packer said. However, the next day, she was pleased to find “so many people care,” because she’s been inundated with calls and texts of support.
“I’m so grateful to the Chilmark, Aquinnah, and West Tisbury Fire Departments,” Packer said. “They were so amazing.”