Officials still do not know the cause of a fire that gutted part of a three-story house in Hampton Bays last Thursday afternoon, though Southampton Town Fire Marshal John Rankin said this week that investigators have ruled out arson.
Sixty-one firefighters from four local fire departments responded to the blaze after flames had already engulfed half of the house at 33 Ponquogue Avenue, located on the corner of Ponquogue and Fanning avenues, creating a huge plume of black smoke that slowly made its way south. All three apartments in the house were occupied at the time of the fire, which was reported to Southampton Town Police at 3:12 p.m., but all occupants escaped without injury, according to Mr. Rankin. It wasn’t clear how many people were home at the time of the fire.
Hampton Bays Fire Department Chief John Tedesco, who was one of the first to arrive on the scene, said that he, another volunteer firefighter and a third person later identified as retired Fire Department of New York firefighter Chris Raymos conducted a preliminary search of the house before the fire trucks arrived. Mr. Tedesco said they were able to confirm that all occupants had already fled the building before he ordered a mandatory evacuation until additional help could arrive.
While they were inside the burning building, one of the house’s tenants reentered the home to save a pet. The unidentified older man could be seen climbing out of a second-floor window while carrying what appeared to be a small black dog in his arms while he made his away across the first-floor roof. He climbed down from the roof with the assistance of firefighters; Mr. Tedesco said the man was never in any immediate danger.
“The man had a little black dog and he jumped off the roof,” said Ryan Murphy, a Hampton Bays High School student who spotted the smoke while walking in the area. “The firemen rescued him.”
Donny White, another Hampton Bays High School student, said that he and several friends were at the nearby Starbucks when they spotted the large cloud of black smoke off in the distance.
An unidentified Hampton Bays firefighter was transported to Southampton Hospital after complaining of chest discomfort while conducting an exterior check of the house, according to fire officials and Southampton Town Police. Mr. Tedesco said the firefighter was held overnight for observation. An update of his condition was not immediately available.
A second Hampton Bays firefighter also had to be taken to the hospital after he fell back at the firehouse while moving equipment, according to the fire chief. The firefighter, who suffered a rib injury, was taken to Southampton Hospital and released later the same day, Mr. Tedesco said.
According to Mr. Rankin, two vehicles parked in the driveway of the home, next to the house, were destroyed in the fire. He added that investigators think that the fire started outside the home before spreading to the building. More than half of the house, which is no longer habitable, sustained damage and the back section of the structure collapsed, Mr. Rankin said.
Witnesses reported hearing several muffled explosions while firefighters worked to knock down the flames while utilizing a pair of tower ladders. Fire officials later explained that the explosions were caused by household chemicals. Mr. Rankin added that a propane tank located to the back of the house exploded, as did the tires of both cars parked next to the house at the time.
Town records list John J. Desch as the owner of the house, which is zoned for multiple residences.
Mr. Desch did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Firefighters with the Hampton Bays, East Quogue, Southampton Village and Flanders fire departments all responded to the fire, which was deemed under control within 30 minutes. Firefighters remained on the scene for approximately two-and-a-half hours and sections of both Ponquogue and Fanning avenues were closed to traffic during that time. The Hampton Bays and Flanders-Northampton ambulance companies also responded to the scene, while members of the Quogue Fire Department were on standby at the Hampton Bays firehouse until the scene was cleared.
“The fire department did an excellent job,” Mr. Rankin said on Tuesday. “Considering the age of the building and how it was constructed, they were able to save a good portion of the residence.”
Staff writer Loren Christie contributed to this story.