Fire Rips Historic Provincetown

Devastated merchants from the crafts market known as Whaler's Wharf began Thursday to calculate the losses of a fire that tore a hole in the center of the historic Cape Cod town earlier this week.

More than 200 firefighters were called in to battle the blaze, which broke out at about 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday. By Wednesday night, Whaler's Wharf, which dated to 1919, had been reduced to ashes.

"It's just a charred, blackened, ugly mess," said Mary-Jo Avellar, who is a member of the town's board of selectmen.

The fire was estimated to have caused more than $5 million in damages after it burned 17 businesses along the harbor.

The flames also destroyed the Crown & Anchor, a hotel and nightclub that is generally filled with tourists in the summer. And since the wooden buildings in the small fishing village and artist's colony are crowded close together, many residents and shopowners feel lucky that the blaze went no further.

"I tell you, God was sitting on someone's shoulder. Otherwise the town would have been destroyed," said James Cook, Provincetown water superintendent.

Investigators said Wednesday the fire was accidental, and was believed to have originated from a space heater the building's caretaker was using.

The 65-year-old caretaker, David Bragdon, discovered the blaze in his office, and reported it to police. After being questioned by investigators, Bragdon apparently tried to kill himself with a flare gun while sitting in his car. He remained in critical condition Thursday at Cape Cod Hospital, and was expected to recover.

"I smelled something just as I was coming inside, and then I saw the flames," Bragdon said after the fire.

Bragdon said he had thrown three blankets onto the fire, then went to get water. When he returned, the fire was out of control.

"It must have been an electrical short," Bragdon said. "I had the place locked up, so no one could get in."

As the victims of the fire assessed the damages, Provincetown officials already were looking for space for businesses displaced by the five-alarm fire.

The state of Massachusetts has set in motion a $300,000 grant to renovate the Wharf. That grant will be supplemented by $518,000 from other government agencies.

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