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Mar 8, 2016 11:56 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Fire Destroys Water Mill Home; Community Raises Money For Occupant's Photography Equipment

A Water Mill home was destroyed by a fire early Thursday morning. COURTESY CULLY/EEFAS
Mar 8, 2016 3:00 PM

About 50 firefighters from several departments spent more than five hours battling a blaze that ultimately destroyed a house in Water Mill last Thursday morning, March 3.

By Tuesday, only a few days after the fire, the community had already come together and raised almost $19,000 to help one of the home’s occupants, Eric Striffler, to replace photography equipment he lost that morning.

Southampton Town Tax Receiver Theresa Kiernan lived in the house with her mother, Ann LaWall, who owns it, but they were in Florida at the time. Mr. Striffler and another person were in the house at the time of the fire, along with two dogs—all got out and were uninjured.

The Southampton Fire Department received a call about the fire just after 3 a.m. on March 3. When volunteers arrived at the scene, the blaze had already torn through the structure at 5 Seven Ponds Road, according to 1st Assistant Chief Chris Brenner. Officers from the Southampton Village Police Department were the first to arrive, and Officers Charles Knoebel and Ed McIntyre helped alert one of the occupants to the fire.

“[They] did a phenomenal job doing that,” Chief Brenner said, adding that weather conditions that morning made it difficult for firefighters to extinguish the blaze.

“The temperatures were below freezing. Winds, I would say, were about 20 to 25 mph. And it was driving the fire … back into the house,” he said, adding that occupants of a neighboring house needed to be evacuated as well. “Embers were falling approximately 60 yards away from the house, on another house that was nearby.

“It was definitely a wind-driven fire,” he continued. “Cold temperatures, firefighter gear was icing up, hoses were icing up.”

The Hampton Bays, North Sea and Sag Harbor fire departments assisted Southampton at the fire, and volunteers from the Bridgehampton Fire Department stood by at Southampton’s Hampton Road firehouse, Chief Brenner said. The Southampton and Hampton Bays volunteer ambulance companies also reported to the scene to check firefighters’ blood pressures and help restore their oxygen levels. The Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance stood by at Southampton Volunteer Ambulance’s headquarters on North Sea Road.

Southampton Fire Chief Mike Kampf was in charge of the scene.

Ms. Kiernan said in a phone interview later on the morning of the fire that Mr. Striffler, a friend of hers, was staying in the house with his dog, as was another friend, who was watching Ms. Kiernan’s dog. Ms. Kiernan found out about the blaze shortly after 3 a.m. via a text message from another friend who is a member of the Southampton Fire Department.

Although the news was still sinking in, Ms. Kiernan said Thursday morning that she was extremely thankful everyone was safe. “So thankful to the firefighters, and so blessed that no one was injured,” she said. “[The firefighters] worked so hard to try to save whatever they could.”

She added that she and Ms. LaWall have begun looking for rentals while their insurance company works out other details. Ms. Kiernan returned to the South Fork over the weekend, while Ms. LaWall will stay in Florida for the rest of the month.

“We’ve had plenty of trouble in the past two months with the heating system,” Ms. Kiernan said, adding that whatever the cause, the fire “is definitely not suspicious. There’s absolutely no indication of anything other than a horrible accident.”

Chief Brenner said the Southampton Town fire marshal was investigating the cause, although “the house was a total loss, so there’s not much that you’re able to see there.” A call to the Town Department of Fire Prevention was not returned this week.

In the days following the massive blaze, community members have rallied behind Mr. Striffler, a local photographer who lost thousands of dollars worth of equipment in the fire. A GiveForward.com campaign launched by Laura Lennon Andrews shortly after the fire has raised more than $18,000 to replace $25,000 worth of items Mr. Striffler lost.

“He has to purchase all new equipment in order to continue his lifelong work as a professional photographer,” Ms. Lennon Andrews wrote in the campaign’s description. “Many of us know and care about Eric, and want to help him in his time of need.”

The fundraising page can be found at pages.giveforward.com/emergency/page-ytvkzh3.

In an interview this week, Mr. Striffler explained that he was temporarily staying in the house with his pug, Bugsley, because he had moved out of the home he shared with his former fiancée. He had all of his clothing with him, as well as a number of cameras, lenses, lighting equipment and computers that he uses for his work.

He estimated that the $25,000 loss represents the cameras and lenses alone, and that the lighting equipment was worth another $6,000, and his two computers about $10,000. He was able to save an older camera and lens that were in a bag by the door when he ran out of the burning house.

Mr. Striffler’s business insurance had lapsed late last year, leaving him no way to cover the costs of replacing his gear on his own. “It was just bad timing,” he said.

The photographer added that he was “blown away” by the support he has received from not only his friends and acquaintances within the South Fork community, but also others around the country he has met through his profession.

“It feels wonderful. I’m kind of shocked, in a way, because I’m just so blown away and flattered by everyone’s generosity,” he said, adding that he hopes Ms. Kiernan and Ms. LaWall receive the same kind of support: “I wasn’t the only one that suffered the consequences.”

Firefighters left the scene at about 8:25 a.m. after what had been a very busy night. Chief Brenner said that before the house fire, the department responded to a call at approximately 11 p.m. about a gas smell in the basement at Southampton Hospital. Volunteers wrapped up that call at about 1 a.m., and then firefighters had to respond to a motor vehicle accident shortly after 2 a.m.

“The men and women of all the departments did a great job,” Chief Brenner said. “[The house] was so far gone that you couldn’t tell where it started. It destroyed the whole thing.

“A lot of the guys, most of them have to work” after a full night of calls, the chief added. “But that’s what we signed up for.”

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How can we help?!
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Mar 3, 16 10:27 AM
Info coming soon.
By Joseph Shaw, Executive Editor (201), Hampton Bays on Mar 5, 16 5:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
Glad no one was hurt
By Mouthampton (422), Southampton on Mar 3, 16 9:42 PM
Thanks to the volunteers. You are appericated and respected for your community service.
By Gene10x (27), Southampton on Mar 3, 16 11:53 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Liman (30), Montauk on Mar 4, 16 9:13 AM
Terry, you and your Mom are in our prayers!
By carsrus (65), Hampton Bays on Mar 4, 16 5:18 PM
1 member liked this comment
its not covered under the home owners insurance?
By schamus13 (8), southampton on Mar 7, 16 5:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
No. He was a house guest.

Eric is a brilliant photographer and the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off of his back. I'm proud to live in a community that takes care of its own...
By Draggerman (917), Southampton on Mar 7, 16 9:35 PM
1 member liked this comment
I feel bad for the guy and I'm glad people are chipping in but if he is a professional photographer why didn't he have business insurance?
By Rich Morey (363), East Hampton on Mar 10, 16 8:28 AM
In the print version of the story (which you can read by selecting 'Here's how the story appeared in print'), Mr. Striffler explained that his business insurance had lapsed late last year.
By amelillo (5), North Patchogue on Mar 10, 16 11:37 AM
House guest my ass. Do they have a renters permit? What's good for the goose...
By lirider (274), Hampton Bays on Mar 10, 16 11:31 AM
Well, given that the Town's tax receiver lives in the home, I'm going to believe that he was a house guest. The tax receiver obviously isn't in Florida for the majority of the year, rather she is in the Town serving the people, living at her residence. It's completely believable that when on vacation she would have someone watch the house (and dog sit? article is a bit unclear). You can have friends or relatives stay at your house for extended periods of time without a renter's permit so long ...more
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Mar 10, 16 11:54 AM
1 member liked this comment
If he's just a house guest for a week then why is all his stuff there and not just a suitcase? Computers and $25,000 worth of stuff? It's obvious he's renting. I'm only saying because if the Town cracks down on normal people renting out a basement or room then it should investigate this situation. I personally believe the rental permit issue is wrong. A person should be able to do what they want with their home given they have a Certificate of Occupancy. But if you're going to crack down on ...more
By lirider (274), Hampton Bays on Mar 11, 16 7:30 AM
1 member liked this comment
It's possible he planned the week of here and then picked up a job or two, or maybe he brought his equipment because he wanted it in case a job came up. Or he wanted to shoot stuff to sell. I don't think having his photography equipment is a red flag that he was staying for more than a week.
By Rich Morey (363), East Hampton on Mar 11, 16 10:27 PM
Are you people serious? How about you Columbo wannabes move on to a more productive use of your time than callously weaving fiction about my friends that are hurting after a personal tragedy.
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Mar 13, 16 7:33 AM
3 members liked this comment
Seriously lirider, you don't agree with rental permits but you're going to speculate and complain anyway?
By dnice (2345), Hampton Bays on Mar 13, 16 8:25 AM
1 member liked this comment
lirider you should be ashamed of yourself for your narrow minded accusations! Just because the house is in Watermill does NOT justify a person being rich! Show me 1 wealthy homeowner who's turned their home into an "overcrowded' immigrant house! Have you ever stayed at someone's house to watch their pets?? I have!! This man is a photographer...why wouldn't he bring his work equipment with him!! Show some respect !!!!
By toes in the water (861), southampton on Mar 13, 16 9:07 AM
1 member liked this comment
I am aware that Mr. Striffler is a local resident, who takes great photos, seems to have lots of friends here, and who has suffered a painful misfortune. I don't think lirider has cast any aspersions at Mr. Striffler. He has simply raised the question that is being asked by many people right now (locally and nationally). Is the law being applied equally to all?

toes in the water, your last comment is blatantly racist. Rental laws and registries are for everyone not just people who have ...more
By Arnold Timer (326), Sag Harbor on Mar 13, 16 9:13 PM
I am FAR from racist Mr Timer!! I was merely using the same words lirider chose to use..."overcrowded immigrant home" I am very well aware of the wealthy rental homes...Ive seen it first hand. As for the rental laws, I am very familiar with those as well. The remarks that came from lirider were rude an insensitive. If his intentions were to question if the laws were being applied equally to all , well he certainly missed the mark..."house guest my ass"... WOW ! RE-read what he wrote. Than please ...more
By toes in the water (861), southampton on Mar 15, 16 4:25 PM
TITW, I apologize for misconstruing your remarks as racist and characterizing them as such . I found your comment confusing.
For the record, I know none of the parties mentioned either.
By Arnold Timer (326), Sag Harbor on Mar 15, 16 10:14 PM
Thank you AT
By toes in the water (861), southampton on Mar 16, 16 7:54 PM
Drive-in movies,Coopers Beach, Southampton village