Firefighters respond to Oak Bluffs fire for third time

Updated 7 pm

Oak Bluffs firefighters responded to a brush fire behind the town’s cemetery for a third time Monday, after pockets of smoke and flame were discovered during an inspection of the area around 5 pm. 

Firefighters from Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury first responded to the fire Monday morning and then returned around midday, finding that the fire was still burning underground.

The call came in around 7 am, and firefighters had the fire, which scorched about an acre of land, under control by just before 8 am. West Tisbury deployed both its brush breakers to the scene.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, according to interim Fire Chief Martin Greene.

The fire comes as Dukes County is under an elevated threat of fire. “The prolonged dry weather across southern New England has resulted in very low live and dead fuel moisture,” according to the National Weather Service. “With low relative humidity and gusty winds Monday, any fires which escape initial containment and become established could potentially become serious. Consult your local fire warden if planning any outdoor burning on Monday.”

Oak Bluffs Deputy Fire Chief Manuel Rose said the department had been notified by the DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation) that the danger of wildfire was high. He said the fire was called in after sunup, but had it started in the early morning hours when few would have seen it, it could have grown much larger, and threatened the Portguese-American Club or nearby residences. Rose said the area that burned is known to be frequented by squatters.

“That may or may not have something to do with the fire,” he said. It remains an open investigation, he said. 

Fire officials were back at the scene Monday afternoon, because the fire was discovered to be still burning underneath the ground. Chief Greene said he dug approximately nine inches in one spot, and found hot ash. He said firefighters were using thermal imagers, hand tools, and portable water to attack hot spots. He described the terrain as full of trip and fall hazards, including animal burrows, and said he hoped nothing reflared after the sun goes down, as it would be difficult for firefighters to keep their footing in the dark.

Rose told The Times at the scene at about 5:45 pm that the whole area was being doused with foam in an attempt to smother remaining hot spots. The depth and dryness of the mulch in the area was a major factor in the tenacity of the fire, he said.