Investigators are working to find the cause of a Saturday night blaze above a local electrical business that left three North Sea residents homeless.
Although no injuries were reported as a result of the fire above Gary and Charles Knoebel Electric Inc. on Mary’s Lane, unfavorable weather conditions and the intensity of the blaze forced firefighters to evacuate several apartments in neighboring buildings. After approximately 45 minutes, the fire, which was called in to the North Sea Fire Department at 10:30 p.m., was considered under control, although firefighters remained on scene until 2:30 a.m., Southampton Town Fire Marshal John Rankin said this week.
Now, the affected residents are left to pick up the pieces. While they have received basic help—including two nights at the Enclave Inn in Bridgehampton, and food vouchers courtesy of the Red Cross—Roslyn Anderson and Barbara Thomas, two of the three residents now left without a home, said they didn’t know what they will do come Wednesday morning, when they would longer have a place to stay.
“Everything was destroyed,” said Ms. Anderson, who was home at the time the fire broke out in the apartment of the third tenant, Don Medler. “Most of the stuff is replaceable, but a lot of it is not,” Ms. Anderson said.
According to Mr. Rankin, police initially received a call about gunshots in the area, so they believe there were several small explosions as a result of the fire. He added that it was too early to determine a cause, and that although foul play has not been ruled out, it does not appear likely.
The fire broke out at 10:28 p.m., and the North Sea, Southampton, Hampton Bays, Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton fire departments all responded to the scene. This week, North Sea Fire Chief William Rosko said he was proud of his volunteers and grateful for the help from the other departments, noting that the fire could have been much worse if it had spread.
“Being a small department, we count on the help of our mutual aid departments,” he said. “We give them much thanks. It is good that we all train together, so that when we have alarms together, we are on the same page and work well together.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Anderson said she had just gotten out of the shower and was getting ready to go to work as a nurse’s aide at Southampton Hospital. She heard a loud popping noise but, not seeing anything out the window, did not think anything of it. A few minutes later, she heard more popping noises, sounds she described as similar to gunshots, before a neighbor started screaming about fire, and she ran outside.
Over the next few hours, she watched in horror as all of her possessions were destroyed. In the days after, she tried to salvage some of her clothes, but smoke had penetrated the fabric and would not come out. Soot and ash had turned some clothes black.
Ms. Thomas, who was working as a home health aide at the time of the fire, fared worse. Her apartment was closer to where the fire originated, and it suffered damage from flames as well as from water and smoke. She, too, lost all her possessions and is searching for a way to start over.
“After tomorrow night, we don’t know what will happen,” she said on Tuesday.
Both Ms. Anderson and Ms. Thomas have lived in the building for two years. They moved in the same week and have known each other for years through the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church.
They are asking for donations to help them get back on their feet. If anyone knows of any apartments that are available, or has extra clothes, furniture or food, they can reach Ms. Anderson at 793-3636 and Ms. Thomas at 374-5642.
Donations for all three tenants can also be made through the Human Resources Heart of the Hamptons, a local charitable organization. Send all donations to 168 Hill Street, Southampton, and earmark the donation for Ms. Anderson, Ms. Thomas, and Mr. Medler.
Early Monday afternoon, Charles Knoebel, the owner of the building, said he was grateful to the first responders. “We just want to thank everybody who helped,” he said. “All of the volunteers who were on scene, and everybody who has helped us out since—they saved my building, and they did an excellent job.”
Mr. Knoebel said his family intends to rebuild the area affected by the fire, but that he does not know if it will still be used for apartments. He added that no decisions have been made yet.
The electric company has remained open since the blaze. “We have been in business since 1972, and we plan on staying in business and rebuilding,” Mr. Knoebel said.