“Tomato Man” Killed in Billerica Blaze

January 22, 2019
Rome Capobianco on his land behind 29 Andover Road in Billerica in 2015. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

BILLERICA -- Romolo Capobianco, affectionately known by some as the “Tomato Man” from his long history of growing and selling tomatoes at his Andover Road home, was killed Monday evening when a two-alarm fire tore through his home, the Billerica Police Department announced Tuesday in a press release.

The home at 29 Andover Road, built in 1880, is a total loss, according to Billerica Deputy Chief Tom Ferraro.

Besides his affection for tomatoes, Capobianco is a longtime Town Meeting member and a former member of the Billerica Housing Authority.

“The Billerica Police and Fire Departments would like to extend its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Capobianco,” the release states. “He will be missed by all.”

The fire was called in by a passerby about 7 p.m., as temperatures outside plummeted to 3 degrees and felt like -16 with the wind.

“Upon arrival, a working fire was observed with significant fire breaching the windows of the home’s first floor. Billerica Fire Department spent multiple hours fighting the fire, which was complicated due to the extremely low temperatures,” the press release stated.

Firefighters were soon ordered out of the 2.5 story wood-frame house, and efforts to battle the blaze became a defensive operation. Firefighters had water problems, including dealing with frozen hydrants on a bitterly cold and blustery night and fire hydrants covered in snow.

“The place has become a block of ice,” Ferraro said. “It’s been quite a challenge.

Ferraro also reminded residents to clear out the area around hydrants.

The total value between the land and building is $422,000, according to the assessor’s website.

According to the BPD’s press release, the estimated wind-chill during firefighting efforts was about -16 degrees. At approximately 10:20 p.m., rescue personnel were able to enter the structure and locate Capobianco, 78.

The Billerica Fire and Police Departments, including the Massachusetts Fire Marshall’s Office along with State Police are conducting an investigation into the cause of the fire.