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Jul 31, 2017 12:15 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Squirrels Might Have Caused Fire At Quogue Refuge's Ice House

The fire in the old ice house at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge on July 4. COURTESY QUOGUE WILDLIFE
Aug 1, 2017 4:48 PM

Last month’s fire that damaged the Quogue Wildlife Refuge’s old ice house building might have been started by unlikely culprits: a family of squirrels.

Michael Nelson, the facility’s director, shared during a recent interview that the cause of the Fourth of July blaze that damaged the structure housing the refuge’s Ice Harvesting Museum, which is still closed, might eventually be traced back to a squirrel nest built near an electrical outlet in the upper level of the building.

“It was most likely caused by squirrels nesting in the building … ” said Mr. Nelson, who serves as 3rd assistant chief in the Quogue Fire Department, which responded and extinguished the early morning blaze. “We’re just assuming it was caused by it. But we know it was electrical.”

Quogue Fire Chief John Sipala shared information about the unusual cause of the fire with members of the Village Board, who are handling the insurance claim on behalf of the refuge, during their most recent meeting late last month.

Mayor Peter Sartorius said all of the money received from the insurance company, Glatfelter Insurance Group of Pennsylvania, would be given directly to Mr. Nelson to repair the old ice house building.

Mr. Nelson estimated that the fire caused about $100,000 in damage. If the insurance money does not cover all of the repairs, the nonprofit will raise the remaining money on its own, he added.

Mr. Nelson said he is still waiting to hear back from the insurance company, to learn how much the refuge will be awarded, before initiating repairs to the structure. The fire started at around 2:30 a.m. and was mostly contained to the roof, though other parts of the building sustained extensive water damage. None of the museum artifacts, including ice harvesting tools, was damaged in the blaze, according to officials.

The building, which predates the refuge itself, once served as headquarters of the Quogue Ice Company. The refuge assumed ownership of the building in 1934.

Mr. Nelson, who lives on the property with his wife, Marisa, the refuge’s program director, was the first emergency responder to arrive on scene after the blaze broke out last month.

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