Two houseboats and a sailboat at a Port Washington marina were destroyed Monday in a blaze that took almost two hours to control as firefighters battled weather and propane hazards, authorities said.
George Martin said he and his wife, Pia Haselbach, 63, lost everything, from the houseboat that was their home since 1991 at Haven Marina to four cats. They suddenly woke up about 2 a.m.
"We were in bed and something woke me, and I looked up and our closet was on fire," said Martin, 63.
Up to 200 firefighters from eight departments raced to the docks on Matinecock Avenue or were on standby, but only 25 or so firefighters were allowed on the narrow floating dock to keep it from sinking and to cut down on any bump-and-slip accidents, said Brian Waterson, Port Washington assistant fire chief.
"It was the only way to access the boat that was on fire, and it was totally iced over," he said.
The other fear: 100-pound propane tanks on houseboats exploding, Waterson said.
Four people were treated at a hospital for non-life-threatening smoke inhalation -- the couple in the first houseboat and two men in the other one, Nassau police said.
Several other boats suffered damage, police said. Waterson said the structure of the second houseboat collapsed and the sailboat damage was beyond repair.
After interviewing residents, the Nassau County fire marshal's office deemed the blaze not suspicious, but said the cause is under investigation.
Fire marshal investigators returned to the scene in daylight to look for clues and will go back Tuesday, said Michael Uttaro, assistant chief fire marshal.
Martin said he and his wife are "clueless" on the fire's cause because the closet did not have anything that could start a fire.
Uttaro said investigators will have a tough time determining the cause because the remains of the houseboat are underwater. Raising it immediately is not a priority because no one was seriously hurt and no crime was involved, he said.
Martin said he and his wife escaped with just the nightclothes on their backs. He said they're staying at a friend's home and the Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Port Washington, where he's a member, is collecting donations.
Monday night, Martin cried over two thoughts.
The first was his pets: "They got scared and ran to their safe places -- and they weren't safe anymore," he said.
The second was the kindness of strangers, who gave him everything from toothbrushes to cash, he said: "It's overwhelming."