By Stephen J. Kotz
More than 150 firefighters from 19 East End departments battled a fast moving fire early Friday that gutted the Sag Harbor Cinema and caused extensive damage to at least four adjoining buildings and smoke damage to several more.
Sag Harbor Fire Chief Tom Gardella said his department was called out for a deck fire next to Sag Town Coffee at 78 Main Street at 6:13 a.m., but by the time the first firefighters arrived on the scene just minutes later, the fire, which was fanned by strong winds out of the northwest, had gotten out of control.
“Wind driven fire is the most deadly fire you can fight. It’s like a blowtorch effect,” Chief Gardella said. “By the time we got here it had already broken through the roof.”
Despite the ferocity of the fire, Chief Gardella said there were no injuries.
Sag Harbor immediately requested additional help from neighboring departments as the fire grew, and fire departments from Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Southampton, and North Sea were soon at the scene, braving frigid temperatures that rained icy vapor back down on those manning the hoses. Thick and acrid black smoke rolled over Main Street and eastward across the village.
Firefighters climbed to the roof of the building occupied by Henry Lehr and cut holes in the roof, where they could spray in water and make sure the fire was not breaking through. The strategy worked, and the fire was brought under control by 10 a.m., the chief said, although it took until shortly after noon for it to be put out completely.
They were recalled to the scene at 1:10 p.m. when the fire rekindled itself. Firefighters, overhead on a scanner, expressed concern that the wall of the movie theater was in danger of collapse at that time. At 2:30 p.m., demolition crews were on stand-by, according to Village Building Inspector Thomas Preiato.
The authorities cordoned off Main Street, between Bay and Union Streets, but allowed reporters access to a position across the street from the movie theater at about noon shortly after the initial blaze had been put out. Firefighters, their helmets and jackets encrusted with ice, milled about. Several street trees encased in ice almost looked festive, but the scene behind them was one of devastation.
The roof of the Sag Harbor Cinema had collapsed, and light poured through to the debris-filled lobby. To the north, the one-story building with Collette, a consignment shop, Matta, a womens boutique, and Sag Town Coffee to the rear, appeared to be heavily damaged. The three-story building housing Compass Real Estate, which also has a two-story apartment above it, also suffered severe damage.
The fire also destroyed the RJD Gallery, which occupied a small space immediately to the south of the movie theater, and caused heavy damage to the two-story Brown Harris Stevens Real Estate office, which apparently had an apartment on its second floor.
The Henry Lehr store, which also has a second-floor apartment or office space, also appeared to be damaged.
The Corner Closet Consignment Store, and Banducci, Katz & Ferraris, LLP, a CPA firm, also appeared to have suffered smoke damage.
Although a witness said the Sag Harbor Variety Store was filled with smoke early Friday, Lisa Field, one of the store’s owners, said she hoped to be open for business on Saturday when electricity is restored to the street.
The fire was reported by Sag Harbor Village police officer Randy Steyert, who said he had not slept well because his son was sick and decided to get a cup of coffee at Sag Town Coffee shop before work. As he approached the building, he said he could smell heavy smoke and discovered a small fire on the second-floor deck of an apartment behind Compass Real Estate next door to Sag Town.
Officer Steyert said he reported the fire and then checked the front of the building. “By the time I went from the font of the building back to the back of the building, the entire deck was engulfed and ablaze,” he said.
Officer Steyert then returned to the front of the Compass building and evacuated the resident of the apartment there. “I was banging on the door, no answer, no answer, no answer,” he said. Finally, a sleepy tenant, wearing pajamas, appeared at the door. Officer Steyert said he told the man to grab a sweatshirt and shoes and they fled the building as flames could be seen out the rear window.
“A good portion of it is going to have to come down,” said Mr. Preiato of those buildings damaged. “A good portion has been compromised.”
Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder, who declared a state of emergency in the village, met with county officials, including County Executive Steve Bellone, and fire officials on Friday afternoon to assess the situation.
While fire marshals from Southampton Town and Suffolk County were at the scene, Chief Gardella said it would take time to determine a cause.
“It most definitely had to have started on the first floor because it burned through from the first floor to the deck,” he said.
Shane Dyckman, the owner of Sag Town and a Sag Harbor fireman, who lives on Washington Street, was at the fire shortly after the alarm was sounded.
A clerk had called him because the police had told her to evacuate the building. “I thought it was the Dumpster,” he said, adding that he was able to enter his shop briefly before the fire erupted.
Among the other departments that responded were Amagansett, Springs, Montauk, Shelter Island, Hampton Bays, East Quogue, Quogue, Eastport, and Flanders.
Rows of ambulances stood on stand-by in the municipal parking lot behind the Main Street commercial district.
The fire also brought out the good side of Sag Harbor, with restaurants opening their doors and offering firefighters meals. In front of the Municipal Building. Saqib Hameed, the assistant manager of Sag Harbor’s 7-Eleven store, had set up a mobile coffee station, and was also handing out bagels, rolls, and muffins to volunteers. “As long as they need us, we’ll be here,” he said.