Dozens of firefighters battled gale-force winds and streets awash in water to extinguish a blaze that destroyed three Fire Island vacation homes and damaged at least one other early Thursday, officials said.
No injuries were reported in the blaze, which started in a house on Bay View Walk in Ocean Bay Park after midnight and spread to two other nearby homes. Flames carried by high winds leapt over at least two other houses that came out unscathed, fire officials said.
One home sustained heat damage to its vinyl siding, according to Town of Brookhaven spokesman Kevin Molloy.
“The wind was blowing extremely hard," Ocean Bay Park Fire Commissioner Edward Horton said in a telephone interview. "The embers were huge. The embers destroyed a house that was maybe three houses from the house where it started.
“The houses went down literally in a couple of minutes because the wind was blowing so hard,” said Horton, who lives two doors down from the home where the fire originated. “It’s remarkable it was only three houses. It easily could have been three more, four more.”
The destroyed houses, two of which were used mainly as summer rentals, were unoccupied when the fire broke out, Horton said.
Firefighters from at least a dozen departments, including four that came by ferry from the mainland, braved winds gusting more than 35 mph and floodwaters so high that hoses disappeared, fire officials said.
"The wind was ripping, the streets everywhere were flooded with water, it was a mess," Ocean Beach Fire Chief Ian Levine said by telephone. "There was probably a foot of water that we were fighting the fire in."
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined but is not suspicious, Molloy said late Thursday afternoon. He added, he did not have the estimated financial damage caused by the blaze.
"Brookhaven fire marshals are investigating," Molloy said.
Horton, however, said he believed the fire was caused by an electrical malfunction brought on by waves that swept over part of the neighborhood.
Fire authorities described a chaotic scene in which responders had to fight horrific conditions just to get to the site.
Horton, a 62-year Ocean Bay Park resident, said when he saw the fire he raced down the street to evacuate his mother, then joined efforts to battle the blaze. His own house was not affected, he said.
Firefighters from Islip fought high waves as they powered the department's fire boat through 35- to 40-mph winds, Horton said. A ferry carrying other mainland firefighters dropped them off away from the Ocean Bay Park marina, which couldn't be navigated because of the storm.
Horton said extinguishing the fire was a "fantastic save" by firefighters in nearly impossible conditions.
“I really thought everything in that row downwind of where it started was going to burn," he said. "We put a lot of water on it and we were able to contain it to three houses."
“The water was so deep, you laid the hoses down and you didn’t see the hoses,” he said, adding some firefighters tripped over the hoses they couldn't see.
-- With Antonio Planas