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Mar 24, 2015 2:16 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Mansion Belonging To Hard Rock Cafe Co-Owner Destroyed In Fire

Mar 24, 2015 4:02 PM

A historic, multimillion-dollar oceanfront mansion in East Hampton Village burned to the ground on Wednesday, March 18. More than 100 firefighters from Southampton to Montauk rushed to the scene of the fully engulfed home, but they could not save it.

The house at 57 West End Road, which belonged to billionaire Hard Rock Café co-founder Peter Morton, was totally destroyed by flames within an hour. What was left of the Gilded Age structure built in 1926 was demolished by an excavator a few hours later.

Officials say the fire does not appear to be suspicious; a construction company had been performing work on the roof of the house as part of a renovation when the flames erupted. East Hampton Village Fire Marshal Ken Collum is still investigating the cause of the fire.

“It sounds like it was a horrible accident,” Mr. Morton’s attorney, Errol Margolin, said on Thursday. “This is [Mr. Morton’s] East Hampton residence. He loves his house … now he doesn’t have a house.”

Windy and bitter cold conditions contributed to the fire and hampered efforts to fight it.

“With the wind and the cold, things started freezing up as the temperature dropped as the day went on,” said East Hampton Fire Chief Richard Osterberg Jr. “The wind really, really advanced the fire. Probably a good 50 percent of the house was involved, and then the wind just pushed it right through the house. The house is a complete and total loss.”

When the call came in at 2:35 p.m., 2nd Assistant Chief Gerry Turza was the first to arrive on the scene. When he noticed that the structure was going to collapse, he ordered an exterior attack, according to the chief, who arrived 10 minutes later.

West End Road is very narrow, and firefighters had to park trucks in neighbors’ driveways. They cut down hedges and trees to get in a good position to fight the flames. Although there is a fire hydrant near the home, the East Hampton Fire Department needed more water to fight the raging flames, so it called in tankers from neighboring districts. The Sag Harbor Fire Department Rapid Intervention Team sent its engine company; Springs and Amagansett sent engines and tankers; Southampton sent two tankers; Montauk sent one tanker; North Sea stood by with an engine and covered calls, including attending to the scene of a hard landing that occurred at East Hampton Airport, and eventually sent their tanker to the fire scene; and Hampton Bays stood by at the East Hampton Firehouse.

“We were all tied up, and they were nice enough to come out,” Chief Osterberg said of the departments.

The narrowness of the road, however, prevented tankers from getting to the scene. By setting up a dump tank at the corner of Lily Pond Lane and West End Road, where tankers from surrounding hamlets emptied out, the department was able to pump water to the scene through several hoses.

Despite their efforts, the fire burned so much of the house that multiple parts of the structure collapsed. Once the majority of the fire was out, the department brought in an excavator to rip the house apart to get to the unreachable flames within, the chief said.

Crews were on the scene until 9:30 that night to make sure all traces of embers were doused and to secure the scene.

“Everybody did a very good job,” Chief Osterberg said. “Mutual aid departments were just phenomenal. Our guys did a really great job, too.”

The house is complete loss, Mr. Margolin confirmed.

In 2008, the Peter Morton Lifetime Trust sold the home to West End Partners LLC for $21.5 million, according to propertyshark.com. But the home still remained in Mr. Morton’s possession, and he used the summer home when he was not in Los Angeles, Mr. Margolin said.

The attorney said he didn’t know the exact circumstances of the incident, since it is still under the fire marshal’s investigation, but he was told there was a construction worker on the roof with a blowtorch—working during 40-mph winds. He said he was told that sparks blew from the blowtorch to an area of the roof that did not have a fire shield on it, causing the house to catch fire.

Contractor Greg D’Angelo, who he said was on site at the time of the fire, did not return calls for comment.

Some historians are mourning the loss of the historic house, saying it was a gem of East Hampton Village. According to Gary Lawrance, co-author, with Anne Surchin, of “Houses of the Hamptons, 1880-1930,” the home was named Heather Dune.

“Heather Dune is now one of the lost houses of the Hamptons Gilded Age, and one could only hope it will be rebuilt as it was, but most likely a new home will rise to take its landmark status,” he said.

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In my 35 years in in construction out here and having worked on many rooves, the only "torch" that any worker would have on a roof would be a sodering iron for metal work. I think it's unprofessional for the lawyer to go on hearsay until the fire marshal in done with his investigation.
By Justsay'n (42), Southampton on Mar 19, 15 4:58 PM
Wasn't really hearsay. There were numerous people on site who knew the fire was started by the flashing worker's torch. Keep in mind the soldering irons used by flashing mechanics still have an open flame. Very sad. It was a beautiful old house.

The good news:
*Nobody hurt.
*House was under renovation so hopefully most of the owner's valuable possession's were out of the building. (speculation)

Also a hats off to fire departments. Tough road. Narrow. Hard to manuver trucks. ...more
By bird (824), Southampton on Mar 20, 15 11:37 AM
Torch down roofing can have this kind of result. Wouldn't be the first time, and probably won't be the last...
By Mr. Z (11642), North Sea on Mar 19, 15 8:46 PM
Yes an open flame that is about the size of a stove pilot light. But a blow torch it is not.
By Justsay'n (42), Southampton on Mar 20, 15 5:52 PM
It's a Hard Rock Life For Us when the Roof, the Roof, the Roof is on Fire!
By Mouthampton (436), Southampton on Mar 24, 15 1:19 PM
Classy comment.
By Arnold Timer (326), Sag Harbor on Mar 26, 15 6:00 PM
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