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Sag Harbor ‘community is in shock’ after fire, deputy mayor says

Firefighters from at least 13 East End departments are battling a fire that has already damaged several buildings and is threatening others lining Main Street in Sag Harbor, officials said on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. (Credit: Tito Saubidet)

Flames swept through a portion of Sag Harbor’s historic business district Friday morning, damaging or destroying five buildings, including a beloved Art Deco-style movie theater.

Propelled by strong winds, the blaze charred a stretch of Main Street occupied by the theater, retail stores, offices, an art gallery and a coffee shop, officials said.

Days before Christmas, the fire left residents and community leaders stunned and saddened.

“The community is in shock,” Deputy Mayor Robert Stein said. “It feels like part of the heart of the village has been hurt.”

Suffolk County officials said the fire was reported about 6 a.m. More than 150 firefighters from 19 departments responded, battling the blaze for hours, Sag Harbor Fire Chief Thomas Gardella said.

Despite the extensive damage, there were no reported injuries, Gardella said.

Firefighters were hampered by icy conditions that made it hard to maneuver and winds gusting to 28 mph.

“Wind-driven fire is the most deadly fire you can fight. It’s like a blowtorch effect,” Gardella said. “It spreads very quickly.”

The fire is believed to have started on an outdoor deck next to Sagtown Coffee at 78 Main St. Flames quickly spread through neighboring businesses, including Sag Harbor Cinema, Gardella said.

“When we got here, the deck was fully engulfed. It was already gone,” said Bruce Schiavoni, first assistant fire chief.

The cause of the fire hadn’t been determined late Friday, Stein said. No damage estimates were immediately available.

The roof of the building that housed RJD Gallery and the iconic single-screen theater, built in the 1930s, partially collapsed.

“The cinema and art gallery look to me to be virtually destroyed,” Stein said.

Other businesses damaged in the blaze include Collette, a consignment shop; Matta, a clothing store; and two real estate offices, Compass and Brown Harris Stevens.

“Although our office has been severely damaged, our agents and staff are safe,” a spokeswoman for Brown Harris Stevens said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to our neighbors.”

Victoria Rojas, 26, of Southampton, a barista at the coffee shop, said she was told to evacuate by a Sag Harbor police officer.

“He said, ‘There’s a fire! You need to leave right now!’ so I left,” Rojas said. “I was the only person who was there.”

Theresa di Scianni, Matta’s manager, said the fire came at a bad time for local shops counting on a boost in sales before the holidays.

“I hope they want to rebuild it as it was,” she said of the damaged buildings. “I would hate to see Sag Harbor change because of this.”

Main Street was cordoned off throughout the day to allow officials to assess the damage. Stein said the village hopes to reopen the street to pedestrians Saturday.

Officials said firefighters used aerial trucks to hose down nearby Main Street buildings to help keep the fire from spreading. In addition to Sag Harbor, firefighters were called in from East Hampton, Southampton, North Sea, Hampton Bays, Quogue, East Quogue, Flanders, Shelter Island, Springs, Montauk, Riverhead and Eastport.

Stein was grateful for the residents who came to the scene with food and coffee for emergency responders.

“Out of tragedy,” he said, “you really saw how people came together.”

With John Valenti

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