A fire inside Menemsha Market triggered last week by a downed utility pole caused more damage than initial assessments revealed, landlord Debbie Packer told The Times. As a result, Packer said she and the Olivers, who run the market, determined it couldn’t open for the 2019 season. “As a group we decided it’s just not possible,” she said.
The ground floor needs to be taken down to the studs, she said, and all the windows and wiring will need to be replaced. “We’re hoping to keep the old floors — people have memories of the way the floor creaks,” she said.
Packer said she remains shaken by the fire and the blazing distribution line blamed for igniting it. She reiterated her thanks to the firefighters who braved flames and high voltage on a stormy night. She also reiterated her thanks to Chilmark Detective Jesse Burton, who rescued her husband, Howie Grimm, from electrocution danger by picking him up in his cruiser.
“When Detective Burton arrived he observed a male [Grimm] near the Menemsha Market and assisted him to a safe distance away, and made sure there were no other bystanders or residents nearby until [firefighters] and Eversource arrived …” Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren emailed.
“We are grateful for the abilities of our responders, and feel badly for Debbie Packer and the Olivers, and are relieved that no one was hurt,” Chilmark selectmen chairman Jim Malkin emailed on behalf of the board.
Despite foul weather ostensibly being the culprit in toppling the pole, Packer said the downpours that were part of it may have been instrumental in preserving the building. “If there’s that much damage in the pouring rain, you can’t imagine what would have happened if it was dry,” she said.
The pole that toppled had been on Packer’s radar already. “I started worrying about it last year,” she said.
In 2018, she said, she called 911 when a flame grew from the transformer mounted on that pole. She also said the pole was leaning for some time. She said she is currently worried about another pole near the Galley that is also leaning.
Eversource spokesman Reid Lamberty said he was looking into the history of the pole. As to the line it held up, Lamberty said it channeled 8,000 volts, something “unique” across the Vineyard based on how Island electrical infrastructure was built. On the Cape and in Plymouth, he said, the same type of lines carry 22,000 volts, and in Boston they carry 13,000 volts. If the fallen pole had taken down a line carrying higher voltage, Lamberty said it would not necessarily have translated into a greater radius of danger for first responders and others in the vicinity. “Because electricity behaves in such an unpredictable manner, we really can’t hypothesize what might have happened had the voltage been greater,” he said.