Standing on the porch of a neighboring house, Bill Plumb shook his head as firefighters continued to get a handle on a fire that tore through the Edgewood Yacht Club early Wednesday morning.
“It’s a piece of history,” he said yesterday morning, the wooden shingled structure still smoking, as flames flared from hot spots underneath the building.
At approximately 3:40 a.m., the Cranston Fire Department was alerted of the blaze, which they believe began in the southeast corner of the building near the dining room. How long the fire had been going is unclear, though it was the club’s internal alarm system that brought CFD to the scene.
“It was at the height of the storm,” said Fire Chief James Gumbley.
First responders entered the building to start an internal attack, but were pushed back due to the severity of the blaze. Resorting to defensive firefighting tactics, they moved firefighters back. There is no reason to believe that anyone was inside the building at the time.
Plumb left the club around 9 p.m. Tuesday after spending several hours rearranging plaques in the interior of the building. Several others remained in the building when he left, but he was confident no one had spent the night there.
During the early morning hours on Wednesday, firefighters were concerned that embers could pose a threat to neighboring homes.
“We were concerned about those houses way up on the hill over there,” Gumbley said. “Luckily all the exposures were well protected.”
Surrounding homes, docks, and all of the Edgewood boats were untouched by the fire. Six Cranston trucks responded Wednesday, as well as two from Warwick and others from Johnston and West Warwick. At the same time that Cranston called for mutual aid from neighboring communities, they called in fireboats from Warwick and East Providence. Low tide forced the fireboats back, but they were in the process of moving back toward the Shaw Avenue edifice after 10 a.m. as the tide returned.
“They were here and they were a great asset,” Gumbley said of the fireboats. “We were focused on land based efforts today.”
By 8 a.m., Gumbley said the fire was under control. At 10 a.m., though, hoses remained pointed at the building. After the boats were forced to push back, firefighters could only position themselves at the front of the building, as the other three sides are surrounded by water.
“Everything was against us; the weather was against us, the access was against us – even the structure itself was against us,” Gumbley said.
He was referring to the construction of the building. The all-wooden structure burned quickly in the early morning hours.
Firefighters were particularly concerned with the walkway to the building, which appeared to be in relatively good condition. Without that entrance, entering the building would prove particularly difficult.
“It’s under control; it’s not going anywhere,” Gumbley said at that point in the morning, adding, “It’s way too early to talk about cause. They haven’t even started the investigation yet.”
As the situation came under control, it was the historic repercussions that had Gumbley and others sobered.
“It’s very sad because it’s an icon in the City of Cranston,” Gumbley said.
According to Plumb, the Edgewood Yacht Club was founded in 1889 and incorporated in 1902. A fire in 1908 destroyed the original building – a fate that its successor appears to have met. The current structure was built in 1908.
When commodore Jeff Lanphear awakened Plumb around 5 a.m., his worst fears were confirmed. A devastating fire has been something he has worried about all his life.
The Plumb family’s roots at the Yacht Club run deep, as his grandfather, his father and Bill Plumb himself, have all served as commodores.
“It’s very emotional,” he said, his voice cracking. “It’s tough for me to talk about because it’s been my life.”
Still, he was confident that Edgewood would rebuild.
“Of course,” he said, “we’re going to try.”
Curt Spalding, who became involved with the club in 1988 and ran the sailing school up until last year, shared that optimism. The sailing school celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, and with the 23 boats or so untouched by the fire, he says it will continue on.
“Our infrastructure, our boats, are there so we will be in operation this summer we just have to sort out how,” he said. “We’re a real institution down here. Losing the club is a huge blow, but I’m sure Edgewood Yacht Club and Edgewood Sailing School will be operating this summer. We just won’t have our beautiful building to operate from.”