Several East Northport residents returned to their apartments early Saturday to see what they could salvage after a fire Friday afternoon displaced 52 people.
The fire in a vacuum store and apartment complex had sent dozens of people running onto snow-covered sidewalks in below-freezing temperatures while firefighters worked to put out the blaze.
Residents Stella Iglupas and her husband, Basilio, had both been at work at separate laundromats when the fire began. They arrived at the scene to find smoke "billowing out" of the building, Stella Iglupas, 66, said Saturday. "I wanted to cry," she said of their return to their apartment Friday night to survey the damage.
They and several other residents spent Friday night in a hotel in Commack.
Saturday, they found their apartment covered in black soot and smelling of smoke. They pushed aside broken window frames and glass on their bedroom floor so they could pack belongings in garbage bags.
The blaze started about 3 p.m. in a rear work area of a vacuum store at 376 Larkfield Rd. The shop is part of a 4,000-square-foot strip shopping center that has three stores below five apartments and 16 apartments in the rear, officials said.
East Northport fire Chief Joseph Ervin said Saturday the commercial units and five apartments were deemed uninhabitable, and it could take months to make them usable. The cause of the fire has not been determined, but fire and police officials said it did not appear to be criminal.
Police said residents were temporarily relocated to a dry cleaner down the block to stay warm as the fire was extinguished.
The apartments in the rear were not damaged, but 42 residents were temporarily housed at the Salvation Army building because gas and electric lines were shut down while firefighters doused the fire, authorities said.
Residents in the damaged apartments stayed at a Commack hotel Friday night and are expected to be there at least through Sunday, according to Craig Cooper, spokesman for the American Red Cross on Long Island. Cooper said the Red Cross is paying for the rooms and plans to refer residents to other social service agencies.
Saturday, Jose Canales went back to his unlivable apartment to see the damage. He said he was in his apartment Friday when he smelled smoke and immediately removed his three children from the second-floor unit. He said smoke prevented him from retrieving their jackets; and people outside gave his children, all under the age of 13, clothes to wear.
The fire was under control in 45 minutes, with aid from Commack, Greenlawn and Huntington firefighters, Ervin said Friday. Four people were treated for anxiety at Huntington Hospital and released, police said.
Crews from the town, PSEG Long Island and National Grid restored power to the rear apartments, and some residents returned home by 7:30 p.m. Friday, Ervin said.