SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 14, 2014

Junction box blamed in blaze

Officials cite electrical cause in Eastern Yacht Club fire

By Ethan Forman
STAFF WRITER

---- — MARBLEHEAD — Investigators have determined an overheated, second-floor electrical junction box caused a three-alarm fire late Thursday into Friday morning at Eastern Yacht Club.

No one was injured, but the fire burned a couple of rooms, a portion of the attic and the roof of the iconic building on Marblehead Neck.

“They determined it was a junction box that served a couple of chandeliers,” fire Capt. Mike Porter said.

The fire was tough to battle, because it burned high up in the 31/2 story building, where access was limited. The location made getting lines to the fire a long trudge, while also causing a logistical problem in making sure oxygen bottles were filled.

“They guys were overheating, but no one was injured,” Porter said.

The first call came in at 11:56 p.m., and Engine 1 arrived three minutes later, along with Ladder 1. When firefighters arrived, they noticed flames at the front of the building along Foster Street. When they saw flames at a hip roof and an air-conditioning compressor, they assumed the fire had started there. It was only later that investigators determined the blaze had started at the second-floor electrical junction box.

The yacht club has a sprinkler system throughout, but because of its age, there are many void spaces that allowed the fire to travel unchecked, Porter said.

Assessors records show that it was built in 1870. The property’s assessed value, both land and building, is more than $10.8 million, and the lodge-style building is assessed at nearly $2.1 million.

The building is so large that firefighters had a hard time getting to the roof to cut holes and ventilate the fire. There was no access to the ocean side of the building due to a front yard full of hedges.

Firefighters had to drag lines up stairs on the front porch, then up a central staircase to the second floor. Access to the third floor proved tricky, as firefighters had to drag lines 65 feet down a corridor to access the stairwells at either end of the corridor. Once up on the third floor, they had to run the lines back to get to the fire.

A couple of rooms and a section of the attic were burned. There was also extensive water damage, both from the sprinklers and the water firefighters used to douse the fire.

Operations during the fire included salvaging priceless art and boat models, Porter said. Firefighters carried them out to a covered porch where they would stay dry. They also pulled out computers located in an office.

“The guys did a fantastic job just being able to stop it,” Porter said.

In addition to Marblehead firefighters, engines from Swampscott, Salem, Lynn, Beverly, Nahant and Lynnfield responded, along with a cascade unit from Peabody so that firefighters could refill their air bottles at the fire scene.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.