William Bauer, 78, died on Friday night when the one-room cabin he shared with an adult stepson at the Cozy Cabins complex on Montauk Highway in Wainscott, exploded in a ball of fire. The small building was gutted and everything inside destroyed.
Mr. Bauer was reported to have been bedridden following surgery and to be a smoker. His stepson, who was known to neighbors as Vinnie but did not want to be identified further, was out at the time the fire began. He arrived at the cabin to see smoke coming from it and, according to a neighbor, he knocked on all the windows, calling Mr. Bauer’s name, then opened the door. The fire exploded.
The Bridgehampton Fire Department received the call at 6:15 p.m. The volunteers responded quickly and were able to put out the fire in about 15 minutes, but they were unable to get inside. The heat was reported to be so intense that it melted the siding on an adjacent cabin. The East Hampton Fire Department was also at the scene.
Ivory King, who is among the residents who live in the cabins on a long-term basis, described stepping outside when she smelled smoke and seeing the inferno, as did Karen Antonez, another neighbor. “There was an explosion, like fireworks,” Ms. Antonez said.
Thomas Baker, an East Hampton Town fire marshal, explained what apparently caused the explosion. “If a fire has been starved and you introduce oxygen to the room by opening a door or window, it causes an immediate flashover,” he said.
Ms. King reported that Mr. Bauer’s stepson returned on Wednesday and that she assisted him in sifting through the ashes for any possessions. “The only thing we found was a crucifix,” she said.
The fire is under investigation by Suffolk County Arson and Homicide Squads, which automatically take over when a fatality is involved.
“It was probably some kind of accident,” Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky of the homicide squad said. It will be several weeks before the coroner’s office or the arson squad release their findings.
“We don’t know for sure, but there are no indications of any foul play,” the lieutenant said. He added that the cause of the fire may never be known because of the total destruction of the contents of the cabin.
Hamptons Escape Management of Bethpage, which operates Cozy Cabins, released a statement expressing deep sadness about the fire and expressing gratitude to the Bridgehampton Fire Department for its “prompt response and courageous acts in containing the fire to one cabin.” They also thanked the East Hampton Town Police Department.