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Christopher Zaino, volunteer firefighter, pleads not guilty to arson at historic Mill Pond House in Oyster Bay

Christopher Zaino, 20, of Bayville, was arrested and

Christopher Zaino, 20, of Bayville, was arrested and is scheduled to be arraigned Friday, Jan. 9, 2015, on a charge of arson in connection with a blaze in March that ravaged the historic Mill Pond House in Oyster Bay, authorities said. Photo Credit: NCPD

A young volunteer firefighter doused a historic Oyster Bay home with gasoline and set it on fire, then a short time later reported the blaze, authorities say.

Christopher Zaino, 20, of Bayville, was standing outside the centuries-old Mill Pond House last spring when fire engines arrived and lent a hand, according to court papers.

Zaino pleaded not guilty Friday to third-degree arson in First District Court in Hempstead. He was released after posting $7,500 cash bail.

After the arraignment, Zaino covered his head with the hood of his black jacket and said nothing. Family members also declined to comment.

In a written statement to police on Thursday, he apologized for the fire but suggested it was all an accident.

"I'm an idiot for what I did, it goes against everything I stand for. . . . I shouldn't have started the fire. I'm sorry for everything," he said in the statement.

After the arraignment, Zaino's attorney, Charles G. McQuair of Sea Cliff, said his client "deserves the presumption of innocence that the law provides him."

McQuair said Zaino has no prior criminal record and "from what I know, he's a very respectable young man."

Zaino graduated from Locust Valley High School in 2012, a district spokeswoman said. He attended Farmingdale State College last year but wasn't currently enrolled, the college said.

Since March, he has been working on contract as an emergency medical technician at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, a hospital official said. Officials have placed him on administrative leave.

Oyster Bay, Locust Valley and Bayville fire departments responded to the March 22 fire that damaged the vacant Colonial-era landmark at 1065 W. Shore Rd. A preliminary investigation deemed the 9:25 p.m. fire -- the second at the house in a week -- to be suspicious.

According to his statement, Zaino entered the home that night through an unlocked rear door and made his way in the dark to the second floor.

He said he wanted to see better so he pulled some papers from his jacket pocket and set them on fire with a lighter.

"As I was walking around the house, I noticed the paper was now burning close to my hand, so I dropped it to the floor," he said. "I noticed the spot where I had dropped the burning paper had started a fire on the wood floor."

Zaino said he tried to stomp out the fire "but it had gotten worse." He said he left the house and later reported the fire after he and friends saw smoke "rolling across West Shore Road."

He said he returned to the scene. When firefighters arrived, he said he was asked to grab a hose.

Evidence in the case included cellphone and Nassau County fire communication records, authorities said. It wasn't immediately clear how investigators tied the arson to Zaino.

Authorities identified Zaino as a Bayville Fire Department volunteer, but fire officials declined to comment.

An important symbol of Oyster Bay, Mill Pond House was built in the late 17th or early 18th century by the Townsend family, which erected the town's first grain mill. The town said in August that it would sell the 2-acre property, but was working on restrictive covenants that would protect its historic value.

Philip Blocklyn, executive director of the Oyster Bay Historical Society, said he's relieved the suspected arsonist has been caught. "If he is indeed the one who did it, I'm glad that he's been arrested," he said.

Zaino's next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 22.

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