A Fourth of July morning fire destroyed Café Moxie restaurant and severely damaged the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Main Street Vineyard Haven.
The blaze, the biggest on the Island in years, is believed to have started in the basement of the café shortly after 9 a.m.
Owner Austin Racine was the only person in the café at the time. He said he was in the kitchen when he noticed smoke. He had earlier been in the basement, which is used for storage.
“I had been working down there all morning and didn’t notice anything,” he said.
The flames quickly engulfed the small, single-story wooden building, and spread to the two-story book store, with which it had a common wall.
Within 30 minutes, the café was gutted, the windows blown out and roof beginning to collapse.
Flames erupted through the roof of the café, and burned through the side of the bookstore. It took close to half an hour before fire fighters were able to get a hose pouring water into the burning roof of the cafe and through the burning side of Bunch of Grapes.
Hundreds of onlookers on Main street watched as firefighters from Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown struggled to get enough water to the burning roof.
A hose and ladder truck made repeated attempts to get a water through a second story front window of the Bunch of Grapes but failed. A second attempt to get over the roof also was unsuccessful and thick smoke forced them back.
But firemen continued to pour water onto the upper parts of the buildings from the front, on Main street, and from the Centre street side. The roof fire was finally contained when another ladder truck on Centre street was also able to get above the roof and pour fire retardant foam onto the building.
A makeshift EMT station was set up on ground behind the Capawock Theatre, and several firemen were treated for smoke inhalation and dehydration.
Power was turned off to all of Main street and the stopped clock in front of Bunch of Grapes recording the time: 9:57.
Mr Racine and his partner Katrina Yekel just bought the business in May.
Former owner Tina Miller, who opened it as Moxie in 1998 and sold it in 2001, was on the scene shortly after the fire started.
“All of a sudden you saw fire come out from under the floor, right up to the windows, and the windows just break. It was so fast and so fierce,” she said, adding:
“If this had happened at four in the morning, the whole street could have gone.”
Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal said he believed Mr. Racine had tried to fight the fire himself.
“Austin was in the building and tried to put it out. Mr. [Robert] Clark, next door at Mardell’s, saw it and sounded the alarm and went and got the fire truck.
“He was pretty huge in containing it,” Mr. Kristal said.
He said the town would now have to band together to help the owners of the businesses.
“These structures are gone; they’re going to have to be rebuilt. At least Moxie will. That’s a pretty vital corner of the town. The bookstore is an anchor.”
Although the fire closed down most of Main street, Steamship Authority ferry service continued to operate normally out of Vineyard Haven.
The Gazette will continue to post updates on the fire on this Web site throughout the day.