Fire guts decades-old cottage

No one was injured Monday afternoon when an electrical fire, sparked by an overturned utility pole, eviscerated a beach bungalow at the corner of Fenwick and Bunting avenues in Fenwick Island.
Special to the Coastal Point • JENNIFER LEHMAN: The fire rages on the Fenwick Island cottage.Special to the Coastal Point • JENNIFER LEHMAN:
The fire rages on the Fenwick Island cottage.

A Pugh Trucking dump truck, trying to deliver stones for a driveway construction project on Bunting Avenue, struck the charged pillar, toppling it onto the porch of the vacant house around 1:30 p.m.

Less than 15 minutes later, 50 years of memories had been gutted and only a shell of the cottage remained.

When the collision occurred, Mary Lou Straughan was sitting two doors down from the soon-to-be hotspot with her mother-in-law, Jane. Her husband, Bill, was painting their roof.

“We heard a loud ‘kaboom’ and we panicked. We thought my husband had fallen off of the roof,” said Mary Lou Straughan. “Then we realized the house [at the corner] was on fire. We were blessed that no one was hurt.”

The Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company responded to the scene quickly, according to BBFVC Second Assistant Fire Chief Lucas Powell, but the fire moved even faster.

“We were here within five minutes of dispatch,” Powell said, “and the house fire was already well involved.”

Firefighters defused the electrical lines and, with no one inside the house, suppressed the flames to prevent spreading. Crews from Millville, Roxana and Rehoboth Beach, Del., and Ocean City, Md., joined in combating the two-alarm blaze.

The five outfits combined to muster five engines, three ladder-toting trucks, two rescue vehicles, two ambulances, a paramedical unit and a fire marshal.

Doug Mumford, 26, whose grandparents have owned the now-charred cottage and neighboring house since the 1950s, was spending the summer there with his friends, Shawn Ehmcke and Kris McClure. The latter two would have been sleeping inside, they said, had Mumford not forgotten to leave them a key.

“I’m grateful that I avoided electrocution,” said Ehmcke. “We were going to stay here.”

After receiving a phone call from his grandmother, Mumford arrived on the scene just in time to see his personal belongings and childhood recollections go up in smoke.

“I just feel fortunate my grandparents weren’t affected by this,” Mumford said. “My grandpa already watched Mumford Sheet Metal Works in Selbyville — the business he owned since 1922 — burn down a few years ago.”

Warren Mumford, Doug’s grandfather, declined comment.

Linwood Pugh was driving the dump truck for his uncle’s company, Paul Pugh Trucking of Westover, Md., when he struck the utility pole. The elder Pugh said someone should have been present on the corner, directing his nephew where and how to turn.

“He was shook up real bad,” Paul Pugh said of his nephew. “But he’ll be alright. He’s pretty cool-headed. He’s upset because the person’s house caught on fire.”