By K.C. MYERS
November 03, 2007
PROVINCETOWN "” With the town on edge after 10 suspicious fires in recent weeks, an arson occurred again last night, this time with serious consequences.
The earliest suspicious fires were found in trash cans, then progressed to unoccupied houses or homes under construction, Provincetown Fire Chief Michael Trovato said. Until last night, the damage had not been extensive.
Last night, one or more arsonists pushed leaves and other debris against the rear wall of an unoccupied home at the top of Oppen Lane, a steep road rising high above Bradford Street, lined with mostly seasonal, expensive homes. The debris was lit on fire, and the blaze spread to the home's outside wall, Trovato said.
The flames had been burning for an estimated two hours before a neighbor noticed and dialed 911, according to Trovato. The house, owned by Jeffrey Libert of Cambridge, is probably a complete loss, the fire chief said.
In a town filled with seasonal homes, many neighborhoods don't have occupants, making an arsonist's job a lot easier, Trovato added.
Residents should keep their lights on, and their eyes open, he said. "We should be forming neighborhood watches, but in a sparsely populated neighborhood like this, that will be hard."
In this case, firefighters had trouble locating the source of smoke, Trovato said. At first, they checked neighboring Harbor Hill Road, the street identified by the 911 caller. But then they stumbled upon the two-story ranch with smoke seeping from its windows and doors, the fire chief said.
Two firefighters made their entry by breaking through a wall next to sliding glass doors on the ground floor, Trovato said. As they entered the burning building, they heard a cracking sound, and a piano, about eight-feet long and very heavy, crashed through the second floor, grazing firefighter Justin White's helmet.
White was not injured but it was a close call, the firefighter said.
"This was very close to being a murder scene," Trovato said last night. "This is what I'm afraid of, that a firefighter is going to get killed."
In the 1980s, Deputy Chief Franklin Oliver died fighting an arson fire at the Lobster Pot Restaurant, the fire chief said.
Arson is suspected in 10 other Provincetown fires that have occurred in recent weeks.
The most recent three blazes occurred on Halloween. The most serious of the holiday fires, at 473 Commercial St., was started by someone igniting a plumber's blow torch and leaving it to burn full blast inside an antique waterfront home once owned by the arctic explorer Donald MacMillan, Trovato said. The fire burned a second-floor alcove of the house, which was under renovation at the time. The same day, there were suspicious fires at 2 Commercial St. and 10 Bradford St.
On Oct. 26, firefighters extinguished a fire at a half-built home at 98 Bayberry Ave.
While residents are naturally concerned, for firefighters the danger is more immediate and tangible.
"You can get killed every time you go to a fire," firefighter Vaughn Cabral said.
The strain is taking its toll on fire crews' nerves.
"I've been nervous for a week," firefighter Aubrey Gordon said.
The state Fire Marshal's Office has had a state police trooper investigating the Provincetown fires since Wednesday, said Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the fire marshal's office.
As of yesterday afternoon, there were no major leads, Mieth said.
But that was before last night's blaze, which was discovered around 6:30, when a emergency dispatcher began sending fire crews to the scene.
"We really think the public is going to be the key to solving this case," Mieth said. "If anyone has information, call the arson hot line. It's confidential. If anyone saw anything suspicious, just call. Don't second guess yourself. Let us decide what's relevant."
The arson hot line is 800-682-9229.