Fire probe continues as Prudence Island mourns


PRUDENCE ISLAND — While authorities still had not positively identified the victim of last week's Prudence Island fireas of Tuesday, islanders and friends gathered Saturday on Prudence to remember Shannon Cubellis.

Mr. Cubellis, 28, was said to have been renting the 0151 Concord Ave. house on the island's west side that burned to the ground early in the morning of Sept. 25. Efforts to locate him after the blaze proved fruitless.

A number of islanders familiar with the situation say that most are convinced that it was Mr. Cubellis who perished in the fire.

Richard James of the state fire marshal's office said later last Tuesday that human remains had been found in the ashes of the totally burned house and that they had been sent to the state medical examiner's office for identification and determination of cause of death. As of Tuesday this week, there had been no announcement on either.

Portsmouth Police Lt. Brian Peters Tuesday said he could not comment on whether investigators believe it was Mr. Cubellis who died in the fire.

"The victim has not yet been positively identified," he said. The medical examiner's office is using DNA analysis in an effort to make that determination.

Over 200 people attended Saturday's noon memorial service at the Prudence Island Improvement Association Hall.

Mr. Cubellis grew up on Prudence and went to the island's one-room schoolhouse and then to Portsmouth High School.

An October, 1989 Associated Press story about the Prudence Schoolhouse included a photograph of then 5-year-old Shannon, one of the school's three students at that time.

Portsmouth police and fire investigators along with officers from the state Fire Marshal’s office were back on Prudence Island last Thursday sifting through the rubble. They could be seen packing some items into boxes.

Prudence Island Fire Chief Bob Marshall said his crew never had a chance to save the old house.

“It was gone before we even knew about it.”

They had the engines, including the ‘new’ one shipped out from Bristol months ago, and manpower they needed, “but as usual the challenge was water.”

Keeping water pressure up for the hoses was difficult and all water had to be trucked in from two big supply tanks on the island.

Other complications included live electrical wires, a propane tank and reports that there was live ammunition inside the house. The ammunition could be heard popping off early on “but was never really a problem,” Chief Marshall said, nor was that propane tank.

Asked whether it was also emotionally difficult dealing turned out to be a fatal fire on an island where everyone knows everyone, the chief replied, “Always.”

The fire apparently had a good head start in the house which is located in the lightly populated (especially at this time of year) west side of the island.

In fact, the first people to see the fire may not even have been on Prudence Island.

Islander Ed Giarrusso said he got a call at around 7:30 a.m. from a friend on Jamestown who asked what all the smoke was. Mr. Giarrusso called the fire department to report a possible fire. At the same time, another islander saw the smoke and drove to the fire station — word from both arrived at about the same time.







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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.