Tisbury firefighters extinguish magnesium fire

The aftermath of a magnesium engine fire that took place Sunday night at the corner of West William Street and Tashmoo Avenue. - Rich Saltzberg

Tisbury firefighters responded to a combination vehicle and structure fire Sunday night shortly before 11 pm, and encountered burning magnesium.

Tisbury Fire Chief Greg Leland said a 1980 Volkswagen Eurovan parked in the driveway of a home on the corner of Tashmoo Avenue and West William Street had a magnesium engine. That engine caught fire somehow when the owner was trying to start the vehicle, Leland said.

“It basically was shooting sparks right into the asphalt below the vehicle,” he said. 

Magnesium is a lightweight metal that can reach high temperatures when ignited.

“I knew what it was as I saw it,” he said. In the past, he said, Tisbury firefighters snuffed out a burning Saab that had magnesium wheels and brakes. The flames react intensely to water exposure, he noted.  

“It’s a fire that burns bright white when it gets hit with water,” he said.

The fire had leaped from the van to a detached garage, and lit its façade up. 

Fire extinguishers would have been a preferred method of attacking the burning magnesium, Leland said, but it was raining, and that diminished their usefulness and aggravated the fire. In the end, copious amounts of water and foam were used to eventually “smother” the magnesium and cool it. 

No injuries were reported. The fire scene cleared at about 12:30 am, though Chief Leland said the department went back several times to check conditions. The cause of fire remains under investigation. 

Edgartown and Oak Bluffs assisted on scene, while West Tisbury covered the Tisbury Fire Station.