Witnesses describe Oakland Beach blazes

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Anne Diffily said that her dog Yogi – named after the famous New York Yankee catcher, not the bear – usually barks at any odd sound during their nights together in her home at Oakland Beach. However, in the wee hours of Monday morning, after a couple episodes of barking she shrugged off, Diffily was thankful for Yogi’s persistence.

“I ignored him the first two times he barked, then I realized looking towards the window, there was orange all around the corners of the window shade,” Diffily recalled on Monday afternoon. “I saw the whole house was lit up like a giant bonfire. It was shocking. It wasn’t like a little flame was coming out or around the windows, it was like a giant bonfire.”

Diffily said she recalled it being around 1 to1:30 a.m. when she saw the blaze in full effect, and snapped the picture featured on the front of Tuesday's Beacon

According to Felicia Gardella, president of the Warwick Historical Society and coincidentally enough a neighbor of the house which was engulfed, the house – which is located on Strand Avenue and the corner of Crockett Street (where Diffily’s house is located) – was the only house on the western part of Crockett Street left standing after facing the wrath of the 1938 New England Hurricane. It also withstood the next big storm when Carol blew through in 1954.

However the house could not withstand the fireball which engulfed it on Monday morning, which Warwick fire officials are officially investigating as an arson. The house was vacant. Barely two hours later as firefighters were leaving the scene, a another vacant house on nearby Sea View Drive was found burning. Signs were posted by Arson Watch outside of both residences on Monday offering a $5,000 reward for any information regarding the fires. They can be reached at 401-383-7723.

“The owner just arrived a little while ago and we went out to talk to her,” Gardella said on Monday afternoon of the house on Strand. “Needless to say she's in absolute shock and it looks like the house is a total loss.”

Diffily said that firefighters responded within about five minutes of her calling. After they beat down the flames, they were called back to fight another house fire just a short walk away on Sea View Drive. Diffily said it was unlikely that the first fire would have caused the second, as a strong north to south wind was blowing – and the second house was located north of the first.

“We're all quite concerned about the timing,” she said. “It's very worrisome. Where we live...it's a little dead end. It's very isolated and quiet and dark, which is lovely for us, but it also makes us a little concerned because this time of year, when we don’t have our windows open, we don’t know if people are on the shore. It’s concerning.”

A dog was brought in by state fire marshals to sniff for the use of accelerants, but as of press time there were no further updates. Nobody was harmed in either fire, as both homeowners were away. The house on Strand Avenue was used as a summer getaway, while the Sea View Drive house was visited intermittently throughout the year, according to Diffily.

Diffily said she was thankful that nobody got hurt, but felt sorrow for those who lost their homes.

“Thank goodness for the wind. If it had been blowing a different direction it could have been a lot worse,” she said. “It blew it all right out into the bay.”

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