Fire Marshal: Atlantic Bluffs Fire Was An Accident

Alan Burke
Flames and heavy smoke poured out of the Atlantic Bluffs on Saturday night.

Flames destroyed at least part of a building at the Atlantic Bluffs Club co-op complex in Montauk on Saturday evening, despite a quick response from firefighters.

The fire was an accident, according to Tom Baker, an East Hampton Town fire marshal, investigating the blaze. He said on Sunday that a maintenance man was installing a fireplace screen in a second-floor community meeting space when he accidentally started the fire.

The metal brackets that came with the screen didn’t fit and he used a grinder to grind down the metal brackets in the room. The sparks caught either the carpet or the couch, Baker said. The worker, who was wearing goggles, did not smell the  fire right away, but noticed a haze in the room, the investigator  said. A sliding glass door facing the ocean was open and with the breeze coming in the room, “it just got it going,” he said.

A section of a building at the Atlantic Bluffs Club co-op in Montauk was engulfed by flames when first responders arrived Saturday evening. Independent/Alan Burke

“I had driven by there five minutes before the actual alarm going off and I didn’t see any fire,” Montauk Fire Department Chief David Ryan said in an interview on Sunday.

When the first responding officers arrived at the Old Montauk Highway property after the first call at 6:54 PM, flames were already extending “a good 30 feet out of the building,” on the southwest corner of property, he said. “The fire was on the second floor, rolling around on the balcony toward the first floor,” Ryan said.

The building was unoccupied, he said.

He believes it started in a second-floor apartment on the southwest corner of that building.

He said there was “a great turnout” from his department, with about 60 members, including emergency medical service personnel. Amagansett Fire Department was called in to bring additional help, as well as a rapid intervention team from the East Hampton Fire Department.

They set up the department’s tower ladder in the complex’s parking lot on the west side of the building, in order to get behind the fire because of the way the wind was blowing. The ladder was extended to hit the fire with a deck gun from above.

While a gale warning was in effect in Montauk at the same, the chief said it was blowing out of the north. “It could have been worse if the wind was coming from a different direction.”

Firefighters were able to put what he called “a quick stop” for the bulk of the fire, but they had to chase the fire through a crawl space in the roof for the next couple of hours. “The fire was in there and it was hard to access it,” he said.

Firefighters had to go into a second building on the property, connected by a covered stairway and shared some of the same roof system, to get to parts of the fire.

The roof on the building where the fire broke out did cave in. Firefighters had to be pulled from inside, where they were working, for safety reasons. “Whenever you’re doing an operation with a tower ladder, that’s a lot of water coming down from up top,” he explained.

The Springs and Sag Harbor Fire Department’s stood by at Montauk and Amagansett’s firehouses during the call.

“Nobody was hurt thank goodness,” Baker said.

Baker said he still has to assess the exact damage to each of the unit. The west wall of the building was at risk of collapsing and he did not go inside the building.

About two-thirds into his investigation on Saturday night, another fire was reported at the Royal Atlantic hotel in Montauk. He said that was an electrical fire, caused by a faulty outlet. Workers shut off the circuit breakers right away and there was minimal damage. The East Hampton Fire Department answered that call for Montauk firefighters, who were still on scene at the Atlantic Bluffs.

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