The Pavilion, a complex in Fire Island Pines, burned Monday...

The Pavilion, a complex in Fire Island Pines, burned Monday night into Tuesday, with more than 400 firefighters responding from Long Island to fight the blaze. (Nov. 15, 2011) Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Fire and police officials were trying to determine the cause of Monday night's explosive fire that gutted a two-building entertainment and retail complex in Fire Island Pines, filling the quiet barrier island community with smoke and destroying a popular nightspot.

"The main part of our town is destroyed," Fire Island Pines Fire Department Commissioner Joseph Geiman said. "Economically, this is our bread and butter."

The buildings near Fire Island Boulevard and Picketty Ruff Walk in the hamlet's dock area are to be demolished after the buildings are inspected.

Flames tore through the interior of the two buildings, leaving indistinguishable piles of black ash where shops, bars and offices had been. The fire sent propane tanks raining down around the community, damaged a home across the harbor and stunned residents watching from their windows and the dock.

The blaze destroyed an entertainment complex -- centered on the popular Pavilion nightclub -- owned by a group including author and journalist Andrew Kirtzman and his partners, Matthew Blesso and Seth Weissman.

Together, as FIP Ventures, they purchased most of the commercial property on Fire Island Pines last year for a reported $17 million.

Kirtzman released a widely circulated statement via Facebook that called the fire "an unfathomable moment" and promised to "begin the process of renewing this beautiful property and making it even more spectacular than it was before." He and his partners did not return calls seeking comment.

Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko said the town will work with property owners to "fast track" applications to rebuild.

More than 20 fire departments worked to extinguish the blaze Monday night, Suffolk County police said. Police and Brookhaven Town's fire marshal's office are investigating the fire's cause.

Geiman said it appeared to start about 9 p.m. Monday in an alley near a propane sales facility. The blaze spread, causing the propane tanks to explode.

No one was hurt -- by the fire or by the heated tanks that flew through the air and landed around Fire Island Pines.

The fire, still smoldering late Tuesday afternoon, required 400 firefighters to knock down. The small barrier island community has just four or five firefighters available on any night in the offseason, Geiman said.

A flower shop, clothing store, a bar called Sip N' Twirl, the Pines Bistro restaurant, real estate offices, a pizzeria, a novelty store, a gym, another bar called Bay Bar, and the propane store, CF LaFountaine, operated in the Pavilion building owned by Kirtzman and the LaFountaine building. 

"The whole roof was just one ball of flame," said resident Wayne Heyser. "I was up on my roof deck, and I saw a little bit of flame from the back of the buildings. Fifteen minutes later, the whole thing was engulfed."

Heyser said he spent some of Monday night outside directing cars with a flashlight.

"We're a summer community and this [complex of buildings] is one of our main draws," he said. "It's going to be difficult to get back into shape."

A home across the harbor also suffered "moderate to severe" damage from embers, Geiman said.

The Pavilion hosted a popular decades-old social event called "High Tea," a meeting place of sorts for Fire Island Pines residents where people "sit there with a cocktail, watch the harbor, the boats coming and going," Heyser said.

Fire Island Pines has about 700 homes in 1 square mile.

With Gary Dymski

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