Four town home units were destroyed and at least one other was significantly damaged in an early morning blaze in Centerport on Tuesday, Suffolk County police and fire officials said.
The blaze at the complex on Bull Calf Lane, south of Northport Harbor, caused at least one of the buildings, housing four of the town home units, to collapse, fire officials said. Although about a dozen residents were displaced, police and fire officials said, there were no apparent injuries.
More than 100 firefighters from many departments — Centerport, Greenlawn, Eatons Neck, Halesite, Northport, East Northport, Huntington, Huntington Manor, Kings Park and Cold Spring Harbor — and three EMS companies [Commack, Huntington and Melville] responded to the scene. The fire broke out at 1:10 a.m.
Centerport firefighters were the first to enter the burning structure and noticed the blaze had started in a fireplace, officials said. The plan was to snuff out the flames from inside but firefighters rushed out once they knew how much damage the fire had already done.
“We spotted the fire and the floor was already soft,” First Assistant Chief Richard Miltner said. “You only have minutes before the floors give way so that’s why we retreated.”
Firefighters used their ladder trucks and blasted the blaze from overhead. It took longer to control since the flames were being stoked by the nor’easter that was gripping the area.
“It was very difficult with the wind and the conditions,” Miltner said. “You couldn’t access it. It was very difficult to make an attack.”
Officials said the fire was knocked down by 4:10 a.m. and that firefighters were still working at the scene at 7 a.m.
“This was one of the worst [fires] I’ve seen because of that,” Miltner said of the persistent gusts. “It was horrible. That’s why [the fire] took off.”
Police Arson Squad detectives and Town of Huntington fire marshals are investigating the cause of the fire, which appears to be noncriminal, police said.
One of the first emergency responders at the scene, Suffolk police Second Precinct Sgt. William Miller, said he arrived to find the area shrouded in dense, acrid smoke.
“The whole outside was so filled with smoke. You couldn’t see three feet in front of you,” Miller said. “It was like you were standing in the thickest fog.”
Miller said he began knocking on doors of the nearest town home units to rouse residents. Several asked why they needed to leave, perhaps unaware of the fire, he said. Two women living where the fire started initially thought the smoke was coming only from their fireplace and not because their home was burning, Miller said.
Initial reports were that more buildings had been damaged by the fire — possibly as many as 10 town home units. But firefighters were able to contain damage despite the winds.
Local Red Cross personnel responded to help those displaced by the fire. Some residents went to stay with friends or relatives, while those living in at least one unit took shelter in a motel, officials said.
Two families were given emergency funds to find a place to stay for the next few nights until they can figure out a long-term plan, officials said.
“To have five families lose their homes and their belongings, it’s significant,” said Neela Mukherjee Lockel, who oversees the Red Cross on Long Island. “It’s heartbreaking for them.”
With Mark Morales