EASTHAM — Teresa Martin had just returned from an afternoon trip to the transfer station on March 25 when she saw flames shooting from an electrical outlet on the porch at her house at 10 Hideaway Lane. She grabbed a fire extinguisher but couldn’t figure out how to operate it.
“It began to spread very, very quickly, and soon it was beyond anything I could do,” said Martin, executive director of Lower Cape Community Access Television. She gathered up her dogs, ran outside, and called 911.
When firefighters arrived, the whole front of the cottage was on fire, and power lines were arcing and burning, preventing crews from getting to the main part of the fire, according to a fire dept. press release. Forty-five minutes later, the flames were out, but the house was a total loss, with damage estimated at $500,000.
Four days later, a house at 155 Bridge Road caught fire. It was a total loss, too, with damage estimated at $400,000 by fire officials.
When firefighters arrived at Bridge Road at around 6 a.m. they found flames coming from the bedrooms and roof of the house but were able to bring two occupants, the home’s owner, Gerald Lange, and his son, Christopher, to safety. It took an hour to extinguish the fire, with crews continuing to work on hot spots for four hours after that.
State Police and the State Fire Marshal’s office were also at the scene.
Eastham Fire Chief Dan Keane said that the fire was most likely caused by “careless disposal of smoking materials.” Keane told the Independent, “There was evidence of smoking in the area of origin, and based on interviews with the residents, that’s what happened, most likely.”
Keane said that, though it is unusual for two fires to occur in one week, that fact “doesn’t indicate any type of pattern. These were totally separate causes and origins,” Keane said. “It was completely coincidental.”
Last year, there were a total of 36 fires in Eastham, Keane said. But only one caused property damage of over $100,000.
Keane believes the total losses resulted from waiting to call for help. “There were significant delays,” he said. “One tried to put it out on her own, and the other didn’t have a working phone. That’s how fires get bigger. When we get there late, the fire has a big head start on us.
“When there is a seasonal population, there might not always be a neighbor next door,” he added. “Often a passerby sees the fire after it is already well involved, so that’s where some of these houses end up being just a crumbled foundation by the end.”
Martin, who lives here year-round, is currently staying at friends’ houses until she hears from her insurance company on what to do next. Until she learns more, she said, “I can’t really start to plan anything.”
Keane said that the American Red Cross can provide temporary housing for those displaced by house fires, and local housing authorities also help displaced residents find permanent housing. “It’s not always in the same town, but usually the community rallies around them and they find something,” he said.
Martin said she is taking things day by day. She suffered a small fracture of her knee while escaping the house as well as heavy smoke inhalation. “I can’t look that far ahead,” she said. “But I’m looking to getting to the next couple of days, letting my leg heal, and giving my dogs lots of rubs because they are safe.”
She added that Hannah, an older cat with gray and white fur, is still missing.
“My mantra is to look at the phoenix, and not at the flames,” Martin said. “I can’t change what happened. All I can do is think about what comes next.”
Martin had lived there for 17 years. “The house has been a part of the neighborhood for much longer than that,” she said. “I’m really upset about losing it, but it is bigger than me, too. We are losing our landmarks. Losing one more is just really sad.”
Built in 1930, the house was in the part of North Eastham formerly known as Millennium Grove, where in the mid-1800s thousands of Methodists came from all over New England to worship in tent revivals each summer. (See story about the revivals on page B4.)
“The area has a lot of history,” Martin said. “The cottage is really part of the Cape Cod story. There are so many memories tied up there.”