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Blaze destroys Holly House, Grove Hotel in Cherry Grove on Fire Island, officials say

Firefighters survey the damage after a fire in

Firefighters survey the damage after a fire in the Cherry Grove community of Fire Island on Friday, March 27, 2015. The famed Grove Hotel, an apartment complex and two unoccupied homes were destroyed, and the Ice Palace bar and three other homes were damaged in the early morning fire, fire officials said. Credit: Ed Betz

A massive fire early Friday destroyed the famed Grove Hotel and another resort landmark in the Cherry Grove community of Fire Island, raising fears of a ruined summer season.

The six-unit Holly House apartment complex and two unoccupied homes were also gutted by the fire, said Craig Williams, Cherry Grove assistant fire chief.

A nightclub attached to the hotel called the Ice Palace, which has hosted the Miss Fire Island drag contest for decades, avoided serious damage. Three other homes in the area were damaged.

No major injuries were reported, Williams said.

Frank Liguori, a veterinarian who owns the hotel and club, said the destruction left him "heartbroken."

"We're still trying to come to grips with the whole thing," he said, standing near the charred remains.

Like most of Fire Island, Cherry Grove is largely deserted this time of year. During the busy summer season the community has long been a gay haven, drawing many visitors from New York City.

"Fortunately, nobody's sleeping in those residences this time of the year," said Ken Osman, a member of the Cherry Grove EMS Committee.

The fire, which started at Holly House, was reported at 1:29 a.m. and wasn't controlled by firefighters until about 10 hours later.

The cause of the blaze wasn't immediately determined. The Brookhaven Town fire marshal's office and Suffolk County Police Department arson squad are investigating.

More than 100 firefighters from 22 departments responded to the blaze. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries, Williams said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone praised the firefighters, some of whom were shuttled to the scene by ferry across the Great South Bay.

"These firefighters came together . . . and were able to knock down this fire before it was able to destroy even more structures," Bellone said.

The nearby Cherry Grove Community House and Theater, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, was not damaged.

Friday's fire was the worst on the barrier island since a 2011 blaze in Fire Island Pines gutted a two-building entertainment-and-retail complex.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine called the Cherry Grove fire "devastating" and pledged to accelerate the approval process for rebuilding projects.

Visitors who huddled together on the boardwalk Friday feared the summer season, which typically starts May 1, would suffer.

Osman said the loss of the 64-room, two-story hotel is a major blow.

"The hotel was the only place you could get a room for the night, or at least for the weekend," he said. "That's going to be a big setback for the community."

Eileen Petzold, 72, of Sayville, a Fire Island day-tripper since 1974, said her phone started ringing about 5 a.m. with news of the fire.

She took a morning ferry to view the destruction and help console residents. "These are all my friends," she said.

Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, remained optimistic, saying the community has "such spirit and the people are so wonderful."

"We are going to have one hell of a season," she vowed.

Liguori said his wife cried when a firefighter called him with the news. Now 25 to 30 employees are out of a summer job, he said.

"We would love to rebuild as soon as possible, but, of course, things take time," said Liguori, who has owned the hotel for nine years.

The Grove Hotel had to be rebuilt at least once before -- after a major fire in 1956. Famous guests over the years have ranged from Truman Capote to Lady Gaga.

Liguori said he's determined to hold the 50th annual Miss Fire Island contest at the Ice Palace on Sept. 12, as scheduled.

"Maybe that'll bring a little bit of happiness to some people," he said.

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