firefighters at Bunch of Grapes
Jaxon White

Cafe Moxie came down this afternoon and weary firefighters worked through the day to separate the charred remains of the building from the Bunch of Grapes book store, to prevent further smoke and fire damage and to allow fire personnel to enter the building and begin to evaluate the overall damage.

Speaking from the scene of the fire, with smoke still rising from the charred support beams and timber, Tisbury fire chief John Schilling said the priority now is to salvage the adjacent book store and make sure the fire is completely extinguished.

“Once we leave, we don’t want to come back here,” the chief said. “I know a lot of these [firefighters] just a few hours ago were getting ready to march in the Fourth of July parade or go to cook-outs, but things changed quickly. They have done their job and they will continue to do their job however long it takes,” the chief said.

Chief Schilling said there are still more questions than answers concerning the Bunch of Grapes store, a landmark Main street business in Vineyard Haven. “There is heavy structural and smoke damage, right now we really can’t get inside to assess the damage because its still too dangerous,” he said.

A large crowd remained at the scene all afternoon. The fire is estimated to have started just after 9 a.m.; at 11:45 a.m. flames were still shooting out of what remained of the roof of Cafe Moxie. Firefighters continued to knock the flames down using water and fire suppression foam. By noon all visible flames were out, but smoke continued to pour from the charred remains.

The common wall between Cafe Moxie and Bunch of Grapes was badly burned, and smoke poured out of the second and third floor windows. Just after noon, there was a scramble when officials determined the remains of the cafe were unstable and might collapse.

The sidewalk in front of the restaurant had sunk several feet into the ground, and emergency personnel ordered all observers to get behind the yellow police tape that had been used to create a perimeter around the fire.

Around 1 p.m., a ladder truck lifted a firefighter with a chainsaw to the second floor of Bunch of Grapes. He then cut three long slits into the exterior wall, causing thick gray smoke to spill from the interior. About 15 minutes later, fire officials brought in a backhoe that was used to tear down what remained of Cafe Moxie.

“We wanted to take action to take down the building before it collapsed on top of someone. It was not safe,” chief Schilling said.

The backhoe operator started with the Cafe Moxie sign before pushing the remaining walls and roof into a jagged and pile of charred timber. The focus then turned to the bookstore. Although the fire was extinguished as of 3 p.m., the future of the bookstore and remained in doubt.

“I’m not sure what the damage is,” said Bunch of Grapes owner Anne Nelson to a friend who approached her and gave her a hug. “They are keeping me updated . . . it’s scary right now.”

Paul Kendall of Burlington, Conn. was among the crowd gathered at the scene; he said his car was stuck behind the perimeter and was surrounded by fire trucks and hoses. He was told it would be several hours before he could get his car out. “We thought we got lucky and got a parking space right in front of the book store — which is almost impossible for 9 a.m. on the Fourth of July — I guess it wasn’t so lucky afterall,” he said.

But Mr. Kendall said he was less concerned about retrieving his car then he was for the well-being of the owners of the Cafe Moxie and Bunch of Grapes.

“It makes you want to cry. We make a point to go to Bunch of Grapes every year; because to us it is the Vineyard — it’s this wonderful place where you are always welcome and feel at home. This is sad day for the Vineyard,” he said.

Ocean Eversley, a manager for the Fancy That store on Union Street, said the timing of the fire couldn’t be worse. “This is the Fourth of July. This is a do or die day for these businesses. We’re talking about thousands of dollars in losses for all of these stores on Main Street; it’s a devastating start to the season,” she said.