A commercial building in Coram where 14 dogs and a cat died Wednesday in an early morning fire had been cited a day earlier by Brookhaven Town officials for building code violations, authorities said.
The building on Middle Country Road was being renovated without a construction permit or permission from town officials to convert the former restaurant to a pet store, Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said.
Town building officials had issued a cease and desist order on Tuesday — less than 24 hours before the fire broke out at 4:43 a.m. Wednesday, officials said.
“I’m outraged that this happened. There was no need for this to happen. The people who run it violated our code,” Romaine said in a phone interview. “This tragedy could have been avoided.”
Romaine said a tenant, Michael Martino of MMI Distribution Inc., is expected to face criminal charges. He said Martino would “be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
He said a town fire marshal who inspected the site on Tuesday had warned Martino to remove the animals, which included 2 adult dogs and 12 puppies. He said the fire and the canines’ deaths were a “totally preventable situation.”
“We’re going to make an example of this so there’s a clear message: Listen to the fire marshals. Don’t violate our codes,” Romaine said.
It did not appear the fire was related to construction work at the site, town spokesman Jack Krieger said. Investigators are focusing on a space heater as the possible cause, he said.
Krieger said Martino had been cited for failure to obtain construction and change of use permits at the site. He said Martino was ordered to apply for the required permits.
Martino did not return several calls for comment.
The Suffolk County police arson squad and the Suffolk County SPCA were investigating. Police said no people were injured.
Four puppies and one cat suffered smoke inhalation, and are expected to survive, said Chief Roy Gross of the Suffolk County SPCA said. They were taken to a veterinary hospital in Selden, Krieger said.
Martino told investigators that the two adult dogs were his personal dogs and he had planned to sell the puppies, said Gross. Martino, who has another pet store on Long Island, had applied for a business license in January to open Pets Unlimited Boutique in Coram, Gross said.
With Ellen Yan and Gary Dymski