An early-morning fire on Nov. 15 destroyed two homes in South Bethany. A 911 call made at 3:30 a.m. reported that the home at 61 South Anchorage Avenue in South Bethany was on fire. Upon arrival at the scene, firefighters found that both 61 and its neighbor at 59 South Anchorage Avenue were well involved in the fire.
“There was also a fire on the house at 63, but it was not burning nearly as badly,” said Joe Hopple, public information officer for the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company. “Plus a neighbor found the fire, at 3:30 in the morning, so the fire was advanced by the time it was even discovered.”
South Bethany resident Lori Cicero, who lives on the end of West Second Street, was one of many neighbors who called 911.
“It actually woke me up. I heard a noise. I woke up and it sounded like hail… I looked out the window, and it was just glowing. I couldn’t believe the light.”
Bethany Beach, Millville, Roxana, Frankford fire companies, along with Sussex County EMS personnel all arrived in response to the first call for responders. A second call was made shortly thereafter, and members from the Rehoboth and Dagsboro fire companies and Ocean City, Md., fire department were also called to the scene, with other units brought to cover those stations fighting the fire.
“There were well over 100 firefighters on the scene,” said Hopple.
Hopple said that, due to the homes’ location on a dead-end street, the departments were limited in their water supply. More than 1,500 feet of hose was laid out, with firefighters using in excess of 2,000 gallons of water per minute at one point.
“Access was very limited for us. We had to lay a lot of hose down into that street to get enough water to fight those fires,” Hopple said. “The biggest thing is to get a water supply established very quickly. We used a large volume of water flowing from both streams on the ground, on the truck and the aerial ladders. We try to put water on the houses that are threatened, as well as trying to put water directly on the fire itself. It’s a lot of heat, wood burning, and it’s a lot to put out.”
Cicero said she went outside to check on neighbors who had already been awoken by the fire’s light.
“My dog sensed something was wrong right away. She wouldn’t even go out of the house. She knew something was up that wasn’t good,” added Cicero. “I walked out of my front door, and by the time I was a third of the way down my street, I could feel the heat. It was so intense and so hot. I had never been that close to a fire before.”
One of the three homes involved in the fire was deemed salvageable. However, the other two were completely destroyed.
“We were able to contain the fire at 63, and that house is salvageable. It’s got damage, but it’s very much repairable. But the other two homes, 61 and 59, are completely destroyed,” said Hopple. “We had to use a front-end loader to bring down the remains of 59 before we could leave, in order to overhaul it and make it safe. It was just a frame standing. We got it under control in a couple of hours, but we were there until 10 o’clock that morning.”
The Office of the State Fire Marshal was continuing to investigate the incident this week and was looking into the origin and cause of the fire.
“There’s no idea of cause yet,” said Hopple. “There’s quite a bit of damage they’ll have to sort through. These houses, a lot of them are all wood. It’s valuable property down there, so they’re all pretty close together. You get a breeze blowing, it doesn’t take much,” he added. “Our experience with beach houses, those wooden houses, is once they get really going, there’s not much you can do except try to keep it from spreading farther.”
Cicero said the experience has changed her and added that she will be buying a fire ladder for her home.
“You just don’t know,” she said. “It was so intense.”
She added that witnessing the dedicated work of the firefighters gave her a newfound respect for the work they do.
“I have always respected firemen, but I have a newfound respect for them. They did their job,” Cicero said. “Thank God there are people like that who want to do that as their job, because the whole road could’ve gone. They put their lives on the line every time they go out. I was awed by that.”
“The biggest thing is there were no civilian casualties and no firefighter casualties,” said Hopple. “That’s always the most important thing.”