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Apr 10, 2012 4:58 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Cause Of Winter Water Mill Blaze Still Undetermined

Apr 10, 2012 5:15 PM

More than two months after fire demolished a Water Mill house, officials from the Southampton Town fire marshals office say they still cannot determine the cause of the blaze, but that the investigation is ongoing with the help of the Southampton Town Police Detective Division.

Fire Marshal John Rankin, the lead investigator in the January 26 blaze that leveled a 10,000-square-foot house at 18 Jordan Drive, said in a recent interview that fire marshals have not yet determined if the fire was intentional or accidental. He declined to comment on whether any accelerants or similar agents were found at the site.

An investigation report filed by Chief Fire Marshal Cheryl Kraft on March 29 sheds little light on any possible causes of the fire. “Due to the severe damage to the building from the fire and overhaul, a fire cause cannot be determined at this time,” the report states.

The two-page report briefly summarizes but offers no new information on the fire, which Southampton Fire Chief Rodney “Chip” Pierson shortly after the blaze called the largest fire he had seen in his more than 20 years in the department.

The document notes that fire departments from Southampton and North Sea were called to the scene “due to the conflicting locations given.” Chief Pierson and North Sea Fire Department 1st Assistant Chief William Rosko arrived at the scene at about 6:57 p.m. that evening—within 10 minutes of the call, which came in at 6:47 p.m. Both chiefs said that upon arrival, the front of the house was not yet “involved in fire.”

“When they approached the rear of the structure, they found it fully involved in fire, with just wall studs and roof rafters visible in the flames,” the report states. “A small portion of the porch roof at the rear of the building nearest the southeast corner of the residence appeared to have already collapsed.”

Chief Pierson said that within 10 minutes of his arrival, the house was fully engulfed in fire, and that within 30 to 45 minutes, the entire house collapsed into the basement, according to the report. The only portion left standing was the garage located on the southern end of the building.

The wind carried “large burning firebrands” to the north, some of which landed on the roof of another home, igniting a fire there, the report states. Other firebrands landed on pool covers and lawns to the north.

No one was home at the time and no major injuries were reported.

The house, owned by Michael Polacco of Manhattan, with Paul Fried of East Hampton serving as his property manager, has a history of code violations relating to rental permits and transient rentals.

Mr. Polacco bought the house in May 2007 for $1.7 million, according to town records. The two-story house was last assessed by the town at $3.5 million and had seven full bathrooms and six bedrooms. The property had been on the market since 2007, but the listing expired this past fall, according to real estate agent Gary DePersia, who had the listing.

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