As the charred remains of the drive-on dock at Menemsha stand as a reminder of last Monday’s fire, the unselfish actions of a few individuals during the frenzied confusion of the blaze have come into sharp relief.
One such individual is Menemsha bass fisherman Casey Elliston, who salvaged a number of boats from the inferno as flames raced down the ill-fated pier. For his part, Mr. Elliston refuses to acknowledge that he did anything special the day Menemsha burned.
“Anyone else would have done the same thing,” he said on Friday afternoon as he prepared to set out in search of stripers.
Mr. Elliston was busy building his cutting board on squid row in anticipation of the start of bass fishing season which kicked off at the stroke of midnight last Tuesday when he noticed something amiss.
“I smelled smoke so I went up to Larsen’s,” he said. “A few other people were standing outside and looking out across the harbor and that’s when I saw the fire go up. I saw how hot and high it was already in matter of seconds. It all happened so quickly.”
At first he says the scene was one of panic, as frightened tourists fled while others scrambled to salvage their own boats. Mr. Elliston, who usually ties up at the former drive-on dock, noticed the fire crawling fatefully toward Lev Wlodyka’s fishing boat The Islander.
“I used to fish with Lev and I knew exactly how to start it and I knew he’d do the same,” he said, “so I immediately went to his boat and got it out while my friend Jamie [Greene] tied Whitney Brush’s boat to mine and towed that out.”
But before Mr. Elliston could even cross the harbor, he said, the fire had already raced about 50 feet down the dock, consuming a line of vessels unluckily moored closer to the blaze. By the time he reached The Islander, thick, acrid smoke was pouring out of the Coast Guard boathouse.
“It was like nighttime,” he said. “I put a shirt over my face; that’s all I could do. It was pretty unhealthy . . . smoking cigarettes is bad enough.”
For rest of the afternoon Mr. Elliston continued to tow boats to the relative safety of the far side of the channel, salvaging five or six by his count. But as the fire raged out of control it wasn’t long before the harbor had to be completely evacuated, even by the brave and bold. The last boat Mr. Elliston managed to haul from certain fiery demise, belonging to Spider Andresen, he had to steer through a gauntlet of smoke, frantic boaters and an errant flaming dinghy carcass which harbor master Dennis Jason and assistant harbor master Cody Gray struggled to tow away from the Texaco station.
“I don’t know how he was holding the boat that was on fire. He did a really great job on Monday,” said Mr. Elliston about the much-praised harbor master whose valiant efforts prevented an already calamitous situation from turning into a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.
As the chaos subsided and the embers cooled, Mr. Elliston got a few pats on the back and several well-earned thank-yous from fellow fishermen for his actions before getting back to an activity much more natural to him than emergency boat-towing. He went bass fishing for three days straight without sleeping.