Diana Bracco looked out her front window Saturday morning to see black smoke pouring out from behind a neighbor's house.
Bracco feared the worst, so she called 911. She found out her call wasn't necessary: It was only a drill at an abandoned Commack motel.
The controlled training exercise by Commack firefighters and surrounding agencies engulfed the shuttered Courtesy Inn on Jericho Turnpike, prompting Bracco, among others, to call Suffolk police.
Commack fire officials said there was no notification to residents before the exercise because there was no threat to the public.
“It would have been nice if they told all the neighbors about this. We’re all freaking out. No one has been informed,” said Bracco, who lives on Astor Court. “It’s scary. I see all these flames and you think it’s going to come back into your own front yard.”
Sonnell Reyes, who lives on Astor Court directly behind the motel, lost his home to an electrical fire less than two years ago. Reyes said neighbors flocked to his home fearful it was on fire again as smoke and embers billowed up from the ridgeline behind his house.
“We knew they were going to tear it down, but maybe just send a letter to tell people this was happening,” Reyes said.
Local and federal agencies have been doing drills at the motel since last week, including forced entry, arson investigations and training of police and fire dogs leading up to Saturday’s controlled burn involving Commack, Smithtown, Nesconset and St. James firefighters, which was not publicized.
The motel has been a blighted property for the past decade and attracted drug use and overdoses, Commack Fire Commissioner Pat Fazio said. The property is set to be demolished to build 98 senior apartments there.
“I’m sorry for any inconvenience, but those neighbors might have had the same problem with this place for years,” Fazio said. “There was never any danger to the community and houses.”
A Suffolk police spokeswoman said she was unable to determine the number of 911 calls about the fire.
Saturday’s fire was a critically important exercise for firefighters to get live fire training at a building, Fazio said.
“We don’t get working fires like this anymore,” Fazio said. “But these men need to continuously train, because we don’t know God forbid when that next fire is going to come. They train like tomorrow is going to be a disaster.”