A family vacation turned tragic as fire swept through a rental home in Noyack before dawn Wednesday, trapping two sisters from Maryland as they slept in a second-floor bedroom, police and fire officials said.
Southampton Town police said Lewis Wiener, 60, Alisa Wiener, 52, and their son Zachary, 23, all managed to escape the house on Spring Lane after the elder Wiener was awakened by "the sound of glass breaking" — the son leaping to safety from a second-floor window.
Lewis Wiener tried to re-enter the burning home to reach his daughters, suffering burns from the intense flames that turned him back, and Sag Harbor Fire Department volunteers used a ladder to access a second-floor window and pull the sisters out. But Jillian Wiener, 21, and Lindsay Wiener, 19, were found "unconscious and unresponsive" and were later pronounced dead at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, police and fire officials said.
The three survivors suffered non-life-threatening injuries and are being treated at Stony Brook University Hospital after initially being taken to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
Police said the family, from Potomac, Maryland, was on vacation. The sisters had graduated from the Holton-Arms School for Girls in Bethesda, Maryland, where the school community was mourning.
In a letter, Holton-Arms school head Susanna A. Jones wrote: "It is with immense sadness that I write to share with you that Jillian ’19 and Lindsay ’21 Wiener passed away this morning on Long Island in an early morning house fire."
"As much of the Holton community can attest, the sisters were warm, engaged members of the Holton community who positively impacted both their classes and the larger school community."
Jones noted Jillian Wiener was a soccer and ice hockey player, as well as an artist, and said that as a certified yoga instructor she taught classes to younger students — and also "devoted hours of her time to raising awareness and funds for families whose children have cancer."
Jones wrote that Lindsay Wiener had served as president of the Community Service Club and the Jewish Culture Club, adding: "Lindsay was a bright spirit and a leader, who was also dedicated to service, particularly getting young people involved in politics and generally promoting volunteerism."
Jillian Wiener was an incoming senior at the University of Michigan, while Lindsay was returning to Tulane for her sophomore year, the letter said.
Members of the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C., where Lewis Wiener has been a member since he was a law student at American University in 1985, and where he served as general counsel and later president, were stunned to learn the news Wednesday, a congregation spokeswoman said. She had no further comment.
Police said the fire was reported in a 911 call at 3:35 a.m. and said patrol officers responded to find the home fully engulfed and the sisters unaccounted for.
Sag Harbor Fire Department Chief Kevin O'Brien Jr. said he and his firefighters got word that the sisters were still inside the home while en route to the scene and said they arrived to find "one side of the house heavily on fire" and the father, mother and son on the lawn "distraught."
O'Brien said his firefighters "immediately tried to enter the house to search" but said: "We were pushed back by the heat."
While a handful of Sag Harbor firefighters began to get "water suppression" on the blaze, O'Brien said another group used a ladder to gain access to the second floor. He said those volunteers found the sisters, pulled them out and administered CPR during transport to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
Firefighters and rescue crews from surrounding communities arrived just as his firefighters pulled the sisters from the home.
"We did everything we could at that point and it's just a shame they didn't get out of the building the way their parents and brother did," the chief said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation by Southampton Town detectives, the town fire marshal's office and the Suffolk County police arson squad.
Initial indications, police said, are that the fire is noncriminal.
While police said it was still unclear how the property was listed for rental, they confirmed the home had been rented — and said there was no known relationship between the Wieners and the listed owners of record. Attempts to contact those owners for comment were unsuccessful.
The director of code compliance and emergency management administrator for the Town of Southampton, Ryan Murphy, said Wednesday that while the town has permit applications on file for work on the home in recent years, there is no valid rental permit on file for the property.
He said that as part of any town rental permit application, either town inspectors must conduct a safety inspection to make certain a property meets all code requirements, or the homeowners must have a licensed professional do it.
"Unfortunately, in this instance there was no safety inspection, there was no rental inspection and none of those things occurred because there was never an application submitted for this to be a rental," Murphy said. "What occurred here was a tragedy."
Police and fire officials said that while the home had smoke detectors, the ongoing investigation has not yet determined if they were working as designed.
"It's just a very upsetting experience," said O'Brien, the fire chief. "That you couldn't do more. Most of my guys are aware that if you're in this career long enough there's going to be an outcome like this. Still, when it happens … "
With Darwin Yanes