The FBI is investigating an Aug. 26 fire at the Shinnecock Indian reservation in Southampton that destroyed two homes, including one occupied by five people in the latest blaze tribal leaders have charged was intentionally set.
Daniel Collins Jr. and his wife, Laurabeth Collins, escaped from the blaze with their two children, and niece. At the scene of the fire last week, the couple said they can’t imagine why anyone would intentionally set the buildings on fire.
“It was literally a matter of minutes before we got out,” Collins Jr. said, before the house was fully engulfed in flames.
FBI spokeswoman Kelly Langmesser said the agency was investigating. “We are looking into it,” she said, but declined to confirm whether arson was suspected or if the blaze was related to at least two other fires on the reservation since 2013, including one at a tribal government trailer.
Members of the tribal trustees, the Shinnecock’s leaders, have labeled the fire at the Collins’ homes a “senseless act of arson,” and trustee chairman Bryan Polite noted it’s “the fifth arson in four years.”
The Collins’ were living in a smaller home set back from a second structure, an 11,000-square-foot, three-story home that was to be their new home and nearing completion, said Collins Jr., a home-repair contractor who served as an airman in Kuwait and is a former Southampton Town police officer. The family has lived on the reservation property for the past seven years.
Collins Jr.’s wife, Laurabeth, said the main concern is safety. “We’re more worried about the reason it happened,” she said. “We’re hoping they catch who did it.”
The tribe’s council of trustees in August sent a letter to tribal members charging the blaze was “intentionally set.”
“This incident put all tribal members in harm’s way and could have burned down more homes,” the trustees wrote. “We will not let this senseless act of arson stand.”
Collins Jr. said accelerants were found on the property, suggesting arson. State Police are also investigating, but a spokesman declined to discuss the case.
Insurance is paying for the family to stay in a hotel and is expected to cover the costs of replacing the first home, but there’s a dispute about insurance for the second building, Collins Jr. said.
Family and friends have been raising money for the family, and providing food, clothing and other assistance while they await insurance. The local community and family members have donated more than $8,000 to the family through an online crowdfunding site at gofundme.com to help them rebuild their life after all their possessions were burned in the fire, Laurabeth Collins said.