An early morning five-alarm fire in Williston Park destroyed five storefront businesses Thursday and struck a devastating blow to what community leaders said was a vital economic engine for the small village.
Nearly 100 firefighters from 13 departments took about 21/2 hours to control the blaze, which was reported at 2:45 a.m. along a stretch of Willis Avenue near Goodrich Street, officials said. The fire's cause is under investigation by the Nassau County fire marshal's office. Nassau police arson investigators said the fire did not appear suspicious.
Once the fire was out, the damage was revealed. The five businesses lost included a bar, a shoe repair store, a Laundromat, the offices of a plumbing business and a hair salon. An adjoining apartment building was evacuated, Nassau police said.
"It was a shock," said Dr. Joseph Locurto, whose neighboring dental shop sustained smoke and water damage. "There is quite a bit of damage here, so it's upsetting."
He said he will have to relocate temporarily to another office in order to continue working while repairs are made to his office.
Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar said the businesses lost in the fire were a "major factor" contributing to the village's financial health and will be hard to replace.
"It's definitely a tragic event for them," he said. "They're small mom-and-pop-type stores, and for them to recover and be able to get back in business may be extremely difficult."
Thursday morning, a large sign reading "Williston Plumbing" lay in a pile of charred wood and metal spilling out from the crumbled storefronts.
The plumbing business' owner, Ron Doughty, said he received a call about 3 a.m. from an ex-fire chief who knew about the fire.
"Everything's gone," is what the ex-chief told Doughty of the office where the business owner said he had worked for 30 years.
Despite losing his office, Doughty made out better than others. He lost paperwork and a few computers, he said, but will stay in business.
"I might be the luckiest one out of all of them because my business is outside the office," Doughty said.
Local business owners and friends have already offered to rent him office space, he said Thursday.
"My guys are working now. They're on the job already," he said of his employees. "They left a little late this morning, but that's it."
The blaze required seven engines, five ladders, four ambulances, a cascade system to refill air tanks and a firefighter rehabilitation unit.
One firefighter suffered minor injuries from a fall, authorities said.