Police: Squatter killed in C. Islip fire likely trying to keep warm

An early morning fire in Central Islip left at least one person dead on Thursday, a Suffolk County fire official said. Videojournalist: Stringer News Service (Jan. 24, 2013)

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A squatter who died in a Central Islip house fire early Thursday probably started the blaze himself by using disposable cooking fuel containers and candles to keep warm, Suffolk County police said.

Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick, commander of the Homicide Squad, said a preliminary investigation leads police to believe the victim, a 45-year-old man, had been squatting at the unoccupied home on Sycamore Street for about a year.

He had set up a small living area in the basement, marked off by pieces of clothing hung on lines, Fitzpatrick said.

On a bitter cold winter night, those misused sources of heat probably ignited the pieces of clothing and started a fire that gutted the two-story home, Fitzpatrick said.

The victim, whose name is being withheld pending notification of family, probably died of smoke inhalation, Fitzpatrick said.

Doors to the vacant home were neither locked nor secured; the home also did not have electrical power, police said.

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Fitzpatrick said he is awaiting a report from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner, which is performing an autopsy, and the Arson Squad to be sure of the cause of death and how the fire started. The blaze apparently began in the basement and was noticed by a neighbor, who called police at about 5:05 a.m.

When police and firefighters arrived at the scene, a next-door neighbor told them a man was living in the home, Fitzpatrick said.

After firefighters took about 20 minutes to extinguish the fire, they found the victim in the basement, police said.

Central Islip Fire Chief Edward Freudenberg also said it appeared the victim was a squatter who had been staying in the basement for a while.

Freudenberg said the fire overwhelmed the two-story house and firefighters could not immediately enter the building because of the heavy smoke and intense heat.

In addition to Central Islip, departments responding to the blaze included Islip Terrace and Hauppauge.

With John Valenti

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