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Cause of $5 million dollar fire not yet known

Two beachfront homes burned to ground, three others damaged
March 16, 2018

Dewey Beach homeowner David Main watched as his antique car was towed away March 14, a day after a fire destroyed his oceanfront Sand Dune Drive home.

The 1929 Model A Ford was the only thing that survived the early morning fire. Main credits quick action by Frankford firefighter Curtis Stevens, who has worked at Main's Dewey Beach home and knew the antique car was in the garage.

Stevens said a house next to Main's was already burnt to the ground when firefighters arrived at 3:10 a.m. March 13. Main's house was on fire, Stevens said, but he broke into the garage and pushed the car out, saving it from the flames.

“The wind was really pushing the fire,” Stevens said.

Main, who has owned the beachfront home for 20 years, said he plans to rebuild. “The family loves coming here,” he said.

The Delaware State Fire Marshal is investigating to determine a cause and origin of the fire. “A fire of this size and dollar loss amount will be a while. We use professional experts, such as electrical/mechanical engineers to examine certain items to try to define the exact cause,” said Harry Miller, chief deputy state fire marshal.

Security camera footage from Main's home shows illumination, smoke and sparks coming from the south side of the building. His security company called him about 3 a.m. when it received the same video, Main said, but by the time firefighters arrived, his house was in flames.

A man who said he was the owner of the Sand Dune Drive home that first burned said he did not know whether he would rebuild. “Beats me,” he said, before declining to comment further.

Sussex County property records show the owner as Josephine Decesaris of Davidsonville, Md. Main said the home was being renovated before the fire.

The fire marshal said the fire caused $5 million in damages, making it one of the most expensive in region history. In addition to the two homes that were burned to the ground, three other homes were damaged by the blaze, which singed siding, melted trim, and cracked windows.

Main said the insurance companies are now sorting out details. He said he is renting a home across from his home, where he may stay over the summer. “Hopefully we'll be able to have family stay in this home, and I can supervise the building of my home,” he said.

Hundreds of firefighters from 16 fire companies fought the fire or helped in support capacities. “Fire companies from Bethany Beach to Slaughter Beach and just about everything in between responded to the fire or provided support,” said Warren Jones, spokesman for the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Co.

The homes were not occupied during the fire; one firefighter was taken to Beebe Healthcare where he was treated for a cut to his head, said Miller.

The fire was under control by 5:29 a.m. but continued to smolder a day later. Jones said high wind, extreme cold and low water pressure hampered firefighting efforts.

The homes that burned lie in a small strip of beachfront property nestled between Silver Lake and the ocean. Sand Dune Drive is at Dewey Beach's northern boundary. Several homes to the north are in county property, and the City of Rehoboth Beach's southern boundary stops at Penn Street near the north end of Silver Lake.

When firefighters arrived, Jones said, they hooked into a county hydrant, but they ended up drafting water out of Silver Lake to fight the flames. Firefighters also laid hose from a City of Rehoboth Beach hydrant, and others fought the blaze from the Dewey Beach side.