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Fire

It looked like special effects from a movie scene playing out on the harbor.

At about 1 p.m. Sunday, July 1, a 33-foot Sea Ray Sundancer boat caught fire in Port Jefferson Harbor near the Danfords Hotel & Marina dock, according to police. The cause of the fire is under investigation by Arson Squad detectives, police said. Four Connecticut natives were onboard the boat when it burst into flames — Charles Schwartz, 59, who owned the boat; Ainsley Lothrop, 30; David Lamontagne, 47; and Robert Corbi, 31.

Suffolk County Police Sgt. Michael Guerrisi was off-duty at the time and onboard his own personal boat nearby, police said. The four occupants of the boat jumped into the water to escape the burning vessel, according to the Port Jefferson Fire Department Chief Brennan Holmes’ office, and Guerrisi aided in pulling the boaters from the water to safety onto his boat.

“Kudos to Port Jeff Fire Department — responded immediately to contain the fire — fantastic job,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant posted on Facebook, thanking the neighboring fire departments for lending a hand. First responders from Setauket, Terryville and Mount Sinai fire departments arrived at the scene of the incident to help extinguish the flames.

“Thank you to Port Jefferson EMS for providing rehab to the firefighters working on scene as well as emergency medical care to the vessel’s occupants,” a message on PJFD’s Facebook page read.

The occupants of the boat were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital to be treated for non-life-threatening injuries, according to SCPD.

Stock photo

The next couple of months are packed with celebrations, including high school and college proms and graduations. When planning any outdoor festivities, PSEG Long Island urges customers to think carefully
about how they handle Mylar balloons. Though they can make a party more festive, Mylar balloons can also cause power outages when they get loose and come in contact with electrical equipment.

The distinctive metallic coating on Mylar balloons conducts electricity. Because of this, when a Mylar balloon comes in contact with a power line, it can cause a short circuit. This short circuit can lead to power outages, fires and possible injuries.

To reduce the risk of outages and injuries, residents should keep the following safety tips in mind:

• Mylar balloons and other decorations should be kept away from overhead power lines and all utility equipment.

• Make sure balloons are secured to a weight that is heavy enough to prevent them from floating away. Keep balloons tethered and attached to the weights at all times.

• Always dispose of Mylar balloons by safely puncturing the balloon in several places to release the helium that otherwise could cause the balloon to float away.

• Never touch a power line. Do not attempt to retrieve a balloon, toy or other type of debris that is entangled in an overhead power line. Call PSEG Long Island to report the problem at 800-490-0075 so crews can remove the item safely.

For more kite and balloon safety tips visit PSEG’s website.

A fire broke out at 201 Main Street in Port Jefferson during the early morning hours May 5, putting a serious crimp in plans for caffeine addicts far and wide.

The location, which houses Starbucks on the ground floor and Barito Tacos & Cocktails on the second floor, caught fire early Saturday morning, according to an 8:30 a.m. May 5 Facebook post by Port Jefferson Fire Department Chief Brennan Holmes’ office.

“A good stop was made and damage to the building was minimal with little extension,” the post said.

The department was aided by members of the Terryville Fire Department. Starbucks was open as of Monday morning, May 7.

The remains of the historic Ebo Hill mansion in Smithtown after the March 26 fire. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The owner of a historic Smithtown property destroyed by a fire last week is wasting no time in brushing himself off, picking up the pieces and promising the Ebo Hill mansion will rise again.

Richard Albano, owner of Richie’s Pizza of Commack and Deer Park, has publicly promised Smithtown residents that he plans to rebuild the historic building that was burned to its studs March 26.

The new owner of the three-story house, once owned by descendants of the town founder Richard Smyth, said he had been burning scraps to provide heat as he and his crew worked on renovations. The last piece of wood was put into the fireplace at approximately 3 p.m., according to Albano, adding only embers remained when he left for the day at around 5:15 p.m.

“If I had a penny for everyone who asked me why I lit the fireplace,” Albano said.

If I had a penny for everyone who asked me why I lit the fireplace.”

— Richard Albano

Albano said a worker was in the rear of the building when he heard a popping noise and found the fireplace mantle was on fire. The worker grabbed a fire extinguisher and used it to douse the flames, according to Albano. The worker then heard a crackling noise coming from upstairs and discovered the second story of the building was engulfed in the blaze.

Smithtown Fire Department received a call at 7:56 p.m. March 26 reporting a structure fire on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown, according to Jeff Bressler, a spokesman for the fire department. Albano said the call was made by a neighbor, who immediately called him.

“When I pulled out of my driveway, I saw the whole sky was lit up from the flames,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything catch fire so quickly and spread so quickly. It’s not even imaginable.”

Hundreds of firefighters from Smithtown, Commack, Hauppauge, Nesconset, Nissequogue and St. James responded to the scene but were unable to enter the building.

Albano said he later learned there was a crack in the chimney on the second floor that when heated, expanded, allowing an ember or spark to slip through, which is what he believes lit the wood floor.

“There’s got to be a reason why,” the owner said. “The only thing I can think of is this would have happened after the house was complete. My family wasn’t in there. The house wasn’t completely redone. It could have been a lot worse.”

Firefighters respond to Ebo Hill mansion fire March 26. Photo from Facebook

The cause of the fire is still under investigation by Suffolk County’s arson squad and Town of Smithtown fire marshals, but no findings were available as of press time. A full investigation may take up to a month to complete.

Albano said he received more than 2,000 messages on the Facebook page he set up to keep residents up to date with the renovations to the historic home, offering both help and encouragement to rebuild. Several GoFundMe campaigns were started by neighbors, according to Albano, but he’s requested they be discontinued and refunds given.

“The wound is still too open,” he said. “It’s too soon.”

Albano said he didn’t have any homeowner’s insurance to cover the damage because he wasn’t able to live in the house yet. He did take out a builder’s risk policy, which he hopes will provide some funds to rebuild.

“It will probably be a few months before I know, but I hope to be back in the construction phase in six weeks,” he said.

We didn’t think after meeting with him that his intentions to rebuild were anything other than genuine.”
— Nicole Garguilo

The owner obtained 1908 floor plans of the house from Smithtown Public Library and consulted with several architects to prepare plans. He hopes to choose an architect to work with within a week, submit building plans to the town and get his building permits. He’s already met with Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and other town officials to discuss his plans.

“He’s looking at a tax assessment increase — he’s looking at a loss, not a gain,” said town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. “We didn’t think after meeting with him that his intentions to rebuild were anything other than genuine.”

While he may have a long road ahead of him, Albano said he’s upset over the numerous artifacts destroyed by the blaze.

“The room that caught fire was filled with things I would have loved to have, stupid things like a pogo stick from 1969,” he said.

A few items that he managed to save because they were in storage include a turn-of-the-century needlepoint of a Christian hymnal verse and the original weather vane.

“I fell in love with the mansion,” Albano said. “I have a lot of passion in me and I connected with the house dearly. It will rise again.”

See more photos of the March 26 fire at Ebo Hill Mansion here. 

Two Suffolk County police officers were injured rescuing a dog from an East Northport fire. Photo from SCPD

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Two Suffolk County police officers were injured after entering a burning home in East Northport to rescue a dog.

Gucci, a 5-year-old Pomeranian, was saved from a Northport home that went up in flames. Photo from SCPD

Officers Joseph Barra and Stephen Caratozzolo responded to the home, located on Meadow Rue Lane, at approximately 1:45 p.m. March 30. As they were circling the fully engulfed house looking for victims, the officers observed a dog through a rear window. The officers entered the burning home through a rear door and rescued the 5-year-old Pomeranian mix named Gucci.

The officers suffered smoke inhalation and were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital by East Northport Fire Department ambulance where they were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Gucci is expected to survive.

Arson section detectives are investigating the fire.

Historic property once owned by the town's founding family burnt down to studs

A historic Smithtown mansion once inhabited by the descendants of founder Richard Smythe burned down to its studs Monday night, according to St. James Fire Department.

Suffolk County police received a call at 7:56 p.m. March 26 reporting a fully involved house fire on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown, according to Kevin Barattini, spokesman for St. James Fire Department.

Smithtown Fire Department was first to respond to the scene and immediately reached out for mutual aid from Hauppauge, Kings Park, Nesconset, Nissequogue and St. James fire departments. The historic mansion was fully engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived, according to Barattini, leaving them unable to enter the building.

“You could see this fire for miles,” he said. “It was amazing, that thing was glowing.”

The property was purchased March 8 by Richard Albano, owner of Richie’s Pizza in Commack and Deer Park, with the intent of restoring the nearly 175-year-old mansion to its original state.

“I’m absolutely devastated,” Albano said.

The new owner said the fire was heartbreaking, and was unable to talk about it any further Tuesday morning.

“I’m absolutely devastated.”
— Richard Albano

Albano began extensive renovations of the more than 11,000-square-foot mansion earlier this year after receiving permission from the previous owner to get started before the sale was final. The home’s 16 bedrooms, two kitchens, master ballroom, and numerous bathrooms had fallen into disrepair, but still contained many of the original fixtures, according to Albano.

“I feel a lot of passion for this home,” he told TBR News Media March 13. “I’m working on it every day, restoring it. My goal is to make it look as it was when it was brand new.”

According to “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-book,” published by the Smithtown Historical Society in 1968, the house was built around 1846. It once belonged to Obadiah Smith, a great-grandson of Smythe, before eventually becoming the homestead to Ethelbert Marshall Smith, another Smythe descendent, in 1877.

Albano had posted March 19 on Facebook that “the restoration is going great and today seemed like it was the [first] day that it felt as things were going back together instead of taking things apart.” He was preparing to install a new roof on the building.

“It’s very unfortunate as you have a guy who was restoring this property and you look forward to seeing it when you pass by it every day,” Barattini said.

The new owner had said he hoped to open the historic mansion for the public to view once it was fully restored. Though Albano has been purchasing, renovating and reselling properties for decades, he said his intention was to live in the Ebo Hill mansion once the project was completed.

There was no reported injuries and the fire is under investigation for unknown causes at this time.

Two Halesite firefighters were injured responding to a Huntington Bay blaze. Photo from Halesite Fire Department.

Two Halesite firefighters were injured and a dog was killed in a house fire over the weekend.

Halesite Fire Department responded to reports of smoke and flames at a two-story residence on Bay Drive West in Huntington Bay at approximately 12:35 p.m. Feb. 3, department spokeswoman Kate Deegan said. Hose Rescue Company Lieutenant K.C. Anna was on scene first with his son, firefighter Taigue Anna, and reported the fire to Halesite Fire Department Dispatch.  

Upon arriving at the scene, Chief Greg Colonna was advised by neighbors that the building owner was not at home, but had a dog, according to Deegan. The neighbors had attempted to find the petl. The dog was found later by firefighters during fire operations, however it had perished.  

There were about 50 firefighters on the scene under the command of Colonna and Assistant Chief James Magerle, who were able to quickly extinguish the flames on the first and second floors, according to Deegan. Mutual aid at the scene was provided by Centerport, Huntington and Huntington Manor fire departments.

Two Halesite firefighters were transported to Huntington Hospital for treatment of minor injuries and released, Deegan said.

The Suffolk County Police Arson Squad is investigating the cause of the fire.

GoFundMe campaign seeks to raise money to help firefighter's family recover from tragedy

Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department members Adrian Benvenuti and his family. Photo from GoFundMe.

Cold Spring Harbor firefighters found themselves in the difficult position of having to rush to the aid of one of their own.

Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department responded to a fire alarm at approximately 9:49 p.m. Feb. 2 on Main Street. Upon their arrival, firefighters under the direction of Captain Brendan Fitts were able to quickly extinguish a fire in the closet of the home’s second-floor master bedroom, according to spokesman Steve Silverman.

The Main Street home is owned by Adrian Benvenuti, a 15-year member of the Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department and ex-assistant chief. Benvenuti was able to safely get his three young children out of the house during the fire, Silverman said. His wife, Brenna, was not at home at the time of the fire.

While damage to the residence was limited, Silverman said that the Benvenuti family is expected to be displaced from their home for about three months due to water and smoke damage.

Lieutenant Daniel Martin, a paramedic with the fire department, launched a GoFundMe page to help raise funds to aid the Benvenuti family. At the time of this publication, more than $4,500 of the $10,000 goal has been raised.

Several community members have posted words of encouragement and support on the GoFundMe page including “Cold Spring Harbor strong.” There were several offers of help from both individuals and local business.

The fundraiser for Adrian Benvenuti and his family can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/benvenuti-family-fire-relief-fund.

Huntington Manor firefighters evacuated 15 residents from an early morning apartment blaze Sept. 20.

The fire department responded to initial reports of a structure fire on New York Avenue between East 10th and East 11th streets in Huntington Station at 6:51 a.m., according to fire district spokesman Steve Silverman.

Firefighters found a fire in an apartment building located behind a commercial building and began an aggressive search and rescue. Several neighboring fire departments including Commack, Dix Hills, Greenlawn, Halesite, Huntington, Melville also responded bringing a total of 50 firefighters and 10 trucks to the scene.

Huntington Manor assistant chiefs Jon Hoffman, Chuck Brady and Jim Glidden led crews in evacuating residents and bringing the fire under control within an hour. The fire caused extensive damage to the commercial building and apartments on the first and second floor, according to Silverman.

New York Avenue was closed off in both directions by Suffolk County police during the fire, causing snarls to rush-hour traffic.

The Suffolk County police Arson Squad and Huntington Town fire marshal are investigating the cause of the fire.

Gunther's Tap Room caught fire in May, and a fundraiser was held this week to help restore the historic bar. File photo from Photo from Chris Ciaci.

By Sara-Megan Walsh

It’s said that many hands make for light work, and if that’s true, the outpouring of community support for Gunther’s Tap Room will hopefully have it rebuilt in record time.

The uplifting refrain of “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey could be heard as dozens of Northport residents and their families attended a fundraiser Aug. 13 for Gunther’s Tap Room at the Park Lounge in Kings Park. Gunther’s has been closed since being consumed by an early-morning fire May 23.

John Weeden, owner of Park Lounge, said he hosted the $25-per-person community barbecue and extensive Chinese auction to raise money to help reopen Gunther’s Tap Room, and to financially aid its employees who have been without a job. Weeden declined to say how much was raised in total.

“I’d like to raise enough money to help them pay for whatever bills they have to reopen it. I thought it was the right thing to do.”

— John Weeden

“I’d like to raise enough money to help them pay for whatever bills they have to reopen it. I thought it was the right thing to do,” said Weeden, who worked as a bartender at Gunther’s for 13 years. “I feel [Pete Gunther] would want that bar reopened. It was his legacy.”

Peter Gunther Sr., a late Northport native and ex-chief of the Northport Fire Department, owned and operated Gunther’s Tap Room since the 1960s, according to current co-owner Brad Vassallo.

“Gunther’s is the bar of the people,” he said. “It’s been basically built amongst the patrons.”

Vassallo, who purchased Gunther’s with Eddie McGrath in 2016, said they are currently in the process of completing structural repairs to the more than 100-year-old building to make it safe and compliant with modern building codes.

“The town has been remarkable in terms of helping the process,” Vassallo said. “They and the community have been fantastic in trying to help us out — letting us do what we need to get this place reopened.”

How much it will cost to rebuild and restore the landmark bar to its former glory is still an unknown, according to Vassallo, saying that “it will be substantial.” The owners said they have run into a number of unforeseen repairs that have slowed down the process.

But several community members have stepped forward, offering donations of building supplies and skills to speed up that process. Some have offered their help to lay down new hardwood floors, and others offered to fix up the bathrooms.

“The community [has] been fantastic in trying to help us out — letting us do what we need to get this place reopened.”

— Brad Vassallo

“We are going to keep the aesthetics as similar as we can,” Vassallo said. “There will need to be some changes, but the color scheme and the way the bar was set up — we are going to keep it as close as we can to the original form.”

With Gunther’s closed for reconstruction, bartender Jani Zubkovs said it’s been difficult for him and the other employees. They’ve stayed in touch over the last few months on updates on the repairs and in trying to find other work.

“It’s an eyesore right now,” Zubkovs said. “I miss all the people, all my regulars. It’s the local Northport place where everybody knows each other.”

In an attempt to offset the financial hardship, Zubkovs has picked up bartending two nights a week at Elijah Churchill’s Public House on Fort Salonga Road in Northport.

Dozens of area businesses contributed to Sunday’s fundraiser by donating goods and services for the Chinese auction.

For those who missed the event, a GoFundMe campaign has been set up, with a goal of $75,000 to help the business reopen. Visit www.gofundme.com/gunthers-tap-room for more information or to donate to the restoration cause.

Despite the disruptions in construction, Gunther’s owners remain hopeful that beer will be flowing again within the next couple of months.

“It’s disappointing that me and Eddie just bought the place to have this kind of situation happen,” Vassallo said. “The primary reason we took it over is that we made a vow. We wanted to keep Gunther’s Tap Room as it was, as Pete Gunther made it to be. We are doing everything we can to do that.”

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