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Jon Thomas Inne in Brightwaters damaged by early morning fire

Volunteers from the Bay Shore, West Islip and

Volunteers from the Bay Shore, West Islip and Islip fire departments respond to a fire at the Jon Thomas Inne on Howells Road in Brightwaters. Four residents of apartments above the restaurant were evacuated, according to fire officials. (Dec. 5, 2013) Credit: Paul Mazza

One resident suffered smoke inhalation and three others were evacuated from apartments on top of a historic restaurant on Suffolk's South Shore that sustained "significant" damage in an early morning fire Thursday.

Owners are "working feverishly" to reopen the bar of the Jon Thomas Inne on Howells Road in Brightwaters as quickly as possible, said Jimmy Rocco, one of the new owners.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known and is under investigation by the police Arson Squad, as well as by the Brightwaters fire marshal.

According to police, Third Precinct Officer Kevin Scheibe was on patrol when he noticed smoke coming from two vents at the inn at 3:12 a.m. The restaurant and bar also has six apartments on the top floor.

Officers Joseph Tassa and Edward Swenson, along with Scheibe, tried unsuccessfully to get into the building, then saw the flames erupting.

Tassa ran to his vehicle and pressed on his horn to alert residents inside until a man came out and let the officers in, police said.

The officers went to the second floor amid heavy smoke and got the three remaining residents out of the burning building, police said.

The Bay Shore Fire Department responded and extinguished the fire.

"Without him, it could have been a lot worse," John Hickey, the building owner, said of Scheibe. He sold the restaurant about three months ago.

The fire destroyed most of the kitchen area, Bay Shore Fire Department Chief Brian Butler said.

He said the main dining area and bar sustained smoke damage and several apartments above the restaurant were damaged.

It could take up to six weeks to reopen the kitchen, said Hickey.

Until chefs can return, the bar's patrons likely will be offered complimentary pizzas or heroes, for example, he said.

The resident was treated for smoke inhalation at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore and soon released, officials said.

A Bay Shore firefighter was treated at the scene for minor burns to both wrists, Butler said. Volunteers from the Bay Shore, West Islip and Islip fire departments responded.

"It's a very old building with a lot of different types of construction," which made it difficult at times to track and fight the fire, Butler said.

The inn was first opened by the husband-and-wife ballroom dancing team of Arthur (Otto) Miller and Josephine (Ethye) Miller -- known as the "Marvelous Millers" -- along what is now Sunrise Highway in 1925, according to its website. The first rooms were rented to construction men working at Pilgrim State.

Later, Josephine Miller and her daughter, Ruth, began preparing brown-bag lunches for the workers and ultimately, the website said, the lodge became a haven for summer tourists.

In 1938, the lodge building was leased to Harry and Elsie Seifert and renamed the "Old Heidelberg," its sun porch converted into a Bavarian bar.

The "Old Heidelberg" was then sold to other owners in May 1952, and eventually was sold again -- to Hickey and his partner Thomas Lally. They renamed it The Jon Thomas Inne in 1977.

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