House Fire on a Windy Day

Extensive damage from smoke and heat to a house on Sawmill Lane in East Hampton.
Michael Heller photos

Just after noon on Monday, a gusty day on the East End, the East Hampton Fire Department was called out to a structure fire at 2 Sawmill Lane, off Roberts Lane in East Hampton. Firefighters made haste and quickly put a stop to a blaze fueled by a leak in a gas line inside the house.

Gerry Turza, the first assistant fire chief, said he arrived within four minutes. As he turned onto Sawmill Lane, he said, he saw flames and smoke break through a first-floor window. Workers had called 911.

Chief Turza found the fire, in a laundry room next to the garage, rapidly extending, fueled by winds that were blowing smoke and flames back through the broken window. The East End was under a high-wind warning Monday, with winds out of the northwest at 25 to 35 miles per hour and gusts up to 60.

The laundry room was being renovated. During demolition, a saw cut into a gas line, according to Tom Baker, the East Hampton Town fire marshal, who investigated the cause of the blaze. Workers had disconnected the gas dryer from the line, he said, but failed to shut off the line to the house, and then cut part of a line feeding a gas fireplace in the kitchen, which shared a wall with the laundry room.

Three workers were in the room when they cut the line, which “blasted the window out,” Chief Turza said. They were lucky, he said. One had a bump on his head, sustained when he ran out of the room, but otherwise they were unhurt. 

The laundry room had already been stripped down to the studs, allowing flames to spread quickly up a wall and into the ceiling, the chief said. Because there was no drywall, which acts as a fire barrier, damage was exacerbated. The fire reached the floor joists on the second floor. There was extensive damage to the first floor from heat and smoke, though the flames were contained mainly to the laundry room.

A firefighter shut off the gas. “Within just a touch over three minutes of the first engine pulling on scene, we had the main body of the fire knocked down,” Chief Turza said. “We really had to move. Thank God there were no injuries. Fed by the gas and pushed by the wind, it could have been a lot worse . . . a few more minutes, it would have been a whole different story. The members did an excellent job.”

Mr. Baker agreed. “They really did save the guy’s house.”

While some firefighters were put back in service soon after, others remained on the scene for about an hour. The department’s full complement responded, though only one engine and a tanker were utilized. The East Hampton Village Ambulance Association also responded. No injuries were reported.

Some may recall a similar gas explosion in February 2015, at a house being demolished in Water Mill. Two workers were injured in that fire after accidentally cutting a gas line.

This article was updated with the version that appeared in print on Feb. 16, 2017.