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Lisa Ostroski

A home on Old Town Road in East Setauket was destroyed by fire Feb. 18. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A tragic fire in East Setauket has left a father and his 10-month-old son in critical but stable condition at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Lisa Ostrowski holds baby Leo with Steven Ortner in the background. Photo from Carolyn Ortner

The fire began slightly after midnight on Feb. 18 on Old Town Road, and the home next to the Old Towne garden center was quickly engulfed by flames due to the high winds that night. Steven Ortner, 30, was able to escape with his son, Leo. However, Ortner’s fiancée Lisa Ostrowski, 31, died in the fire.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, both its homicide squad and arson section are investigating the fire. A preliminary investigation has determined the cause of the fire to be noncriminal in nature. 

A neighbor called 911 to report the fire at 12:01 a.m. Police officers and the Setauket Fire Department arrived on the scene a few minutes later to find the home engulfed in flames. According to SCPD, Ortner escaped through a second-floor window. While he was on the roof ledge, he handed the baby to a passerby below. A responder then took the baby while Ortner tried to go back into the house to save Ostrowski, according to Dave Sterne, the Setauket Fire District’s manager.

Sterne said when Setauket Fire Department Chief Richard Leute arrived on the scene and saw Ortner trying to go inside the home, he advised the father not to do so. Ortner was told to jump and Leute caught him.

Ostrowski was found dead once the fire was extinguished. There were no other occupants at home, and no other injuries were reported.

Barbara Prass set up a GoFundMe page to help with funeral expenses for Ostrowski and to help Ortner and Leo once they leave the hospital. Prass is a longtime family friend of the Ortners, being a childhood friend of Steven Ortner’s mother Carolyn. Ortner grew up in the Town of Smithtown and Ostrowski is originally from Centereach.

The GoFundMe Page, titled Tragic Fire support for Lisa, Baby Leo and “Steven,” as of Feb. 22, had 1,400 donors and raised more than $90,000.

In a phone interview, Prass said that Orner’s parents, Carolyn and Clayton, returned to Long Island from the Carolinas as soon as they were notified Friday and have been able to see him and the baby. Prass said it’s a painful time and something that one can see on the news but can never imagine going through. 

“There are no words,” she said.

Prass said at first the parents were told they wouldn’t be able to visit the hospital due to COVID-19, but finally were given the go ahead to visit with Ortner and Leo.

She said Ortner was able to speak the first day when his parents called him, but he was hoarse and medicated. The father has third-degree burns on his head, face and back of arms. His head had to be bandaged, and the other day the father was put on a ventilator. At first, he asked the family to come and pick up Leo.

“I don’t even think he knew Leo was admitted.” she said, adding the baby is still in the hospital with second-degree burns to his forehead and hands. He also has a collapsed lung.

Ortner is now on a ventilator and doctors are monitoring his organs, also his vision as it was blurry, Prass said.

She said from what the parents could gather when talking with their son, Ostrowski handed the baby to Ortner. According to the family friend, he told his parents, “I had to save the baby. I couldn‘t get back to Lisa. I tried.”

Prass said she told Carolyn Ortner that she is sure Ostrowski died protecting her baby.

“It’s just the worst nightmare,” she said. “I hope Steven can live through that.”

In addition to the GoFundMe page, Prass said she and others are trying to find a place where people can drop off clothes and baby items as many community members have offered to do so.