Cherry Grove community leaders are worried about the impact a devastating fire in March will have on the Fire Island resort town as it prepares for summer season crowds expected to start arriving this weekend.
The owner of the Grove Hotel -- one of several structures destroyed in the March 27 fire -- said Thursday he is struggling to determine how to remove debris from the blaze that remains piled up near the popular Ice Palace nightclub.
The nearby Holly House apartment building and two unoccupied homes also were destroyed by the fire.
Brookhaven Town fire marshals have not determined the cause of the fire, which they say started at Holly House.
Debris from the fire may remain for about two more weeks because of the difficulty of removing it from the small barrier beach community accessible only by boat, officials said.
Hotel owner Frank Liguori said he expects to hire a barge to remove debris and take it to the mainland. "The problem is there's no easy place to put the barge," he said.
He said he may pay as much as $300,000 to remove the debris.
Community leaders are cautiously optimistic that hundreds of day trippers will not be deterred from visiting. But they worry about where weekend guests will stay: The 228-bed hotel and six-unit Holly House held most of Cherry Grove's scarce number of overnight rooms.
"I think we'll get the usual crowds," Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, said. "There's probably 150 or so weekend visitors . . . who won't have a place to be. I think we're going to lose some people."
The sight of the debris pile is "horrible," Romano said. "Number one, it looks terrible, and number two, many people are concerned about it being a health hazard."
Brookhaven Chief of Operations Matt Miner said town officials are trying to help Liguori obtain permits to remove the fire debris. "I think everyone's goal is to get the property cleaned up," he said.
Liguori said the Ice Palace, which he also owns, has reopened. It sustained smoke damage from the fire. "People can still enjoy the weekend," he said.
He said he plans to rebuild the hotel.
Joyce Yaeger, vice president of the community association, said residents are "soldiering on. . . . I think things are on the mend."
"When something like the fire happens, everybody pulls together like it's a small town," she said.