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Long IslandSuffolk

Copiague fire started in AC unit, police commissioner says

A fire in Copiague on Wednesday, April 20,

A fire in Copiague on Wednesday, April 20, 2016, destroyed one home and spread to four others, Suffolk County officials said. The fire started in an air conditioning unit, police said. Photo Credit: Paul Mazza

The fire that destroyed one home and damaged four others in Copiague’s American Venice neighborhood struck a community familiar with disaster.

Superstorm Sandy damaged five East Santa Barbara Road homes so badly that New York State bought them outright, leaving a handful of empty lots among the surviving houses, many of them now conspicuously elevated.

Sarah Aldridge, 35, whose home was badly damaged in the fire, its roof nearly gone, had just gone through the monthslong process of raising it. “We were supposed to move back in two weeks,” she said Thursday. “Now it’s another year and two weeks.”

Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer said Thursday that the neighborhood had been “a focal point for Sandy destruction.”

While describing the fire as “an extremely disheartening” setback, the neighborhood will continue to recover, he said, citing Facebook fundraisers for some of the affected families.

“We’ve proven we’re resilient. It’s going to take a lot more to knock people out,” he said.

Wednesday’s fire started in a wall-mounted air conditioning unit of a home that later had to be demolished, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said. It quickly engulfed that house and spread to four more, sending up a thick black plume of smoke visible for miles. In dry, gusty conditions, flaming embers jumped the canal to the south and ignited brush on nearby Indian Island, an 87-acre tract preserved by Suffolk County.

Fifteen fire departments from as far away as Wantagh sent 200 firefighters and dozens of trucks to respond to the fire, first reported in a 911 call at 1:50 p.m.

On Thursday morning, a Copiague Fire Department vessel patrolled the water around Indian Island, looking for signs of a reported flare-up. East Santa Barbara Road was clear except for gawkers and neighbors.

Keith Bush, 44, who lives just west of the homes most badly damaged, said he’d hurried home Wednesday afternoon to find a melted fence, vinyl siding curled from the heat and his two cats vomiting from the smoke.

“We’ve had fire and water,” he said. “What else is there? Locusts?”

Police said no residents were injured in the Wednesday fire. But Joseph F. Williams, Suffolk County’s commissioner of fire, rescue and emergency services, said two firefighters suffered minor smoke inhalation.

One was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip for treatment, police said.

With John Valenti

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