Monette Basson, a seasonal Water Mill resident for decades, came out east again on Saturday—but not for a weekend of rest and relaxation.
Rather, Dr. Basson, a neurologist, and her husband, Geoffrey, a neuro-ophthalmologist, who make their primary home in Manhattan, came to see the charred remains of their beloved East End summer home that was destroyed by fire the day before.
“It’s the last thing in the world we expected, as you might imagine,” Dr. Basson said this week from her city apartment. “The house was totaled. We were out there on Saturday, and it’s an absolute wreck.”
The Southampton Town fire marshal’s office is still investigating the cause of the blaze that destroyed the home at 86 Tanager Lane in Water Mill early Friday morning, April 22, and resulted in a minor injury to one North Sea firefighter.
Firefighters from five local departments—North Sea, Southampton, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor and Hampton Bays—battled the blaze. No one was in the home at the time of the fire.
North Sea Fire Chief Joseph “Rocky” Ambrose said he received a call of the fire at 7:10 a.m. that day and that it originally came in as a “smoke investigation” in the area of Deerfield Road and Woodthrush Lane, and then at another incorrect address on Roses Grove Road to the north. He said the mixed reports delayed crews only “a little bit,” and that Southampton Town Police were first to arrive at the scene. The house, in a somewhat secluded area off Deerfield Road, was fully engulfed in flames when emergency crews arrived at about 7:15 a.m., and had been raging for a while, the chief noted. “It had to have been burning for an hour or two for that much damage to have been done,” he said.
The fire was quickly controlled, but the two-story, wood-frame home that featured a full basement was a “total loss,” the chief added. Town records list the size of the house at 2,298 square feet, with a 1,241-square-foot full basement.
Dr. Basson said fire officials have indicated to her and her husband that the cause might have been electrical in nature.
“Everybody seems to think it was probably an electrical fire,” she said. “There was nothing else that would have precipitated it. We keep the heat turned down. We don’t leave appliances plugged in.”
The lead fire marshal in the case, Al Tyczkowski, could not confirm early this week that the cause was electrical, but said the investigation possibly could be wrapped up as soon as this Friday. Mr. Tyczkowski said arson is not suspected.
The blaze is believed to have broken out in the southeast corner of the home, Mr. Tyczkowski said.
Dr. Basson said she and her husband would visit the house nearly weekend from mid-April through September and about once a month in winter. They had last been there about two weeks prior to the fire. She noted that their house watcher, Michael Medio, who is also a Southampton Village Police sergeant, keeps a reliable eye on the house. He had last been there the day before the blaze, on Thursday, April 21, and reported that everything was in order, she said.
“But, of course, it only takes a minute for this to happen. So Thursday, it was fine. And Friday morning, the fire marshal called me and said the house was in flames,” she said. “I can’t tell you want kind of feeling that was.”
Mr. Tyczkowski said Sergeant Medio had provided useful information for the investigation. The fire marshal also confirmed that the sergeant had reported that there was nothing unusual about the house during his last visit. Sgt. Medio was on vacation this week and unavailable for comment.
Town records state that the Bassons have owned the Tanager Lane property since 1989. Dr. Basson said she and her husband had their house built on the roughly more than 2-acre lot in 1991. Prior to the house being built, they had summered at a home on Seven Ponds-Towd Road in Water Mill since 1981, she said.
The flames were fully extinguished by about 9 a.m., and firefighters stayed on the scene until about 10 a.m., Chief Ambrose said. At the request of the fire marshals, one pumper from North Sea returned to the scene later that day to soak down a few more “hot spots.” “There was one header that was smoking pretty good,” he said of a window header. “We also got the thermal imaging cameras, but nothing was really high, nothing was over 100 degrees.”
Heavy winds helped spread the fire, according to North Sea Fire Department 1st Assistant Chief William Rosko. He added that approximately 50 gallons of foam were used to help smother the flames. Since no hydrants are in that area, firefighters drew water from one of two nearby cisterns—holding about 10,000 gallons of water—and additional water from a portable tank on a tanker shuttle.