SCITUATE -- A fire whipped by winds blowing up to 50 miles per hour swiftly destroyed three beachfront homes and severely damaged a fourth this afternoon, sending towering flames and billowing smoke skyward as hundreds of spectators looked on.
Three firefighters were taken to the hospital after suffering minor injuries. No residents were injured.
Scituate Fire Chief Richard Judge said the three-alarm fire started shortly before 2 p.m. in the kitchen of 111 Humarock Beach Road and spread to three other homes within minutes.
He said the wind made it difficult to fight the blaze. “You’re chasing it, basically,” he said.
State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said in a news conference at the scene that high winds throughout the state had also exacerbated fires in several other communities, including Milton, Great Barrington, and Martha’s Vineyard.
“Heavy winds such as this create havoc” for firefighters, he said. Coan said that in the Scituate blaze, it was “remarkable” that the fire had been limited to just four homes.
Dianne Tarmey, owner of 111 Humarock, said her husband was upstairs this afternoon when the fire alarm went off. He came down to find a fire in the kitchen, tried unsuccessfully to extinguish it, then ran out of the house with the dog.
Twenty minutes later, she said, the house had burned to the ground.
“Folks have lived here forever. ... I’m thanking God it didn’t happen at night,” she said.
The three other houses involved in the blaze were unoccupied summer cottages.
The beach was whipped by offshore winds this afternoon. National Weather Service observers reported gusts of nearly 50 miles per hour there.
“It was beyond description,” Roger Crawford, who owns Crawford Boat Building in Scituate, said. “It happened so fast. It was a matter of minutes and the houses were destroyed.”
Crawford said he watched as the southwesterly winds helped spread the fire from one house to the next.
“It’s as if you had a pile of kindling, had newspapers underneath it, put gasoline on it, and threw a match at it,” he said. “And then had 40-mile-an hour winds blowing on it. This thing had its own life.”
Crawford said his boat building shop is a few hundred yards from the houses and he ran to see what was happening. When he got there, he said, one house was fully engulfed in flames.
“When I saw it, the house had flames 100 feet high and the wind was forcing it,” he said. “The house adjacent to it on the north side just exploded. It just burst from the heat. The flames didn’t jump.”
Streets near the fire were cordoned off and crowded with police cars and fire engines, including engines sent from neighboring towns. Some residents hosed down their homes, wary of flying sparks.
Ed Perry, owner and reporter for local radio station WATD-FM, broadcasted live from the beach, interviewing local residents and providing descriptions of the struggle to extinguish the blaze.
Judge, the fire chief, said that firefighters were also hampered when power lines fell on the first truck arriving from a station near the beach.
He said the fire was not suspicious. He had no estimate of the damage.
Earlier today, Milton firefighters battled a three-alarm fire in the 500 block of Adams Street, a short distance from East Milton Square as well as the town line with Quincy.
Deputy Fire Chief John Foley said that when firefighters arrived on scene, the fire was already burning on multiple floors.
“They encountered heavy fire on the second floor and I believe the fire had taken possession of the third floor as well,” he said.
High winds played a role in the fire spreading, Foley said, and also slightly hindered the firefighters’ ability to get water onto the blaze.
“Wind was a factor in the acceleration, I’m sure,” he said, adding that wind has a tendency to break up the streams of water firefighters pour on a fire.
One firefighter suffered from minor smoke inhalation and a few others received minor burns to their necks, Foley said. The firefighters were treated by emergency medical workers on the scene, but did not need to be taken to the hospital.
When the initial calls came in, at 11:32 a.m., firefighters received reports that a person in a wheelchair was on the second floor. Foley said everyone made it out of the house safely before firefighters arrived.