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Fire causes millions of dollars in damage to historic Woolworth mansion in Glen Cove

Firefighters respond to a blaze at the historic

Firefighters respond to a blaze at the historic Woolworth mansion in Glen Cove. Smoke could be seen rising from windows in front of the Crescent Beach Road house. Credit: Lou Minutoli

Part of a wing of Glen Cove's historic Woolworth mansion was burned and "priceless" woodwork and decor forever gone when flames erupted Wednesday in a first-floor bedroom, authorities said.

Smoke was noticed just before 11 a.m. by an off-duty Glen Cove firefighter plowing the snow at the 1916 estate, city and fire officials said.

In a mansion built before modern fire codes, flames from the bedroom quickly spread up the voids between the floors and into other rooms, said James Hickman, head of fire investigations for the Nassau County fire marshal's office.

Unoccupied rooms on the second floor and third-floor offices sustained damage, but the first-floor bedroom, which was about 40 feet square and had 20-foot ceilings, was largely destroyed, Hickman said.

"It's down to bricks," said Hickman, speaking from the bedroom with damaged chandeliers, vases and other valuables. "The priceless woodwork can never be replaced. I'm standing on a beautiful, priceless Oriental rug that's never going to be the same."

The fire, under control by 2:30 p.m., was deemed not suspicious. Investigators were trying to pinpoint the cause.

The owners, the family of Martin Carey, brother of former Gov. Hugh Carey, were out of town. They had lived there since 1978 and were distraught, their accountant and representative Leonard Fritzson said at the scene.

"It is a shame," Glen Cove Fire Chief Joe Solomito said outside the mansion.

Outside also, insurance adjuster John Lapata Sr. said he had not yet gone inside the house, also known as Winfield Hall: "This building is so nostalgic. It is so hard to believe."

The 25,668-square-foot mansion, with 13 fireplaces and six bathrooms, sits on 16 acres, according to county property records.

Some items, including many old pictures, were removed from the fire-marred rooms by firefighters, then put in an undamaged room and covered, Solomito said.

One firefighter was treated at a hospital for carbon monoxide exposure, the chief said.

About 150 firefighters from 10 departments helped battle flames, Hickman said.

Bob Retoske, the off-duty Glen Cove firefighter, said he saw no flames at first, but the chimney was "pushing" heavy, black smoke, and water was streaming from the side of the house.

Then the windows caught his eye, he said: "I couldn't understand why they were black and the windows were cracking."

When he smelled wood burning he called authorities.

Retoske and public works crews quickly plowed the property so that fire trucks could reach the mansion, down a driveway almost a quarter-mile long, authorities said.

Hickman estimated the amount of damage to be in the millions. Lapata said several hundred thousand dollars were spent to renovate the house in 2010.

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