Some Quick Thinking Saves A Storied House

It was a terrifying experience for those inside
The quick action of a 17-year-old houseguest, Henry Allman of New York City, prevented a pantry fire from possibly consuming a house belonging to Thomas H. Lee. Mike Heller/East Hampton Fire Department

    A Labor Day fire at an oceanfront property once owned by Lee Radziwill, on East Dune Lane in East Hampton Village, was stopped in its tracks thanks in large part to the quick thinking of a 17-year-old guest, according to Thomas Baker, an East Hampton Town fire marshal, who said the boy’s action saved the house from severe damage and possible destruction.

    Ms. Radziwill, the sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, sold the house in 2001 to Thomas H. Lee, a New York City financier who heads his own firm, Thomas H. Lee Capital. He was in the city at the time, according to East Hampton Village Police Chief Gerard Larsen. His wife was at the house with their son Nathan, 13, and family friends including Henry Allman, 17.

    Thanks to the heavy rains on Monday, Nathan and Henry had been inside all day, when the older boy, apparently looking for a late-night snack, went down to a food pantry in the basement and opened the pantry door.

    He was greeted with “heavy smoke, and some flame,” Mr. Baker said.

    The teenager’s next move was the key to containing the blaze, said the fire marshal. He did not panic, but immediately slammed the door closed, thus preventing the fire, which appears to have been caused by an overheated fluorescent light fixture, from spreading.

    There was extensive smoke damage throughout the basement, which looks more like a first floor because the house, just off the Wiborg’s Beach dunes, stands on sloping grounds. The first floor had extensive smoke damage as well, though no flames.

    The fire alarm was triggered, and Alert Security called the fire department at 10:28 p.m. Firefighters arrived soon after.

    “The fire department was fantastic,” Mr. Lee said on Tuesday. It was a terrifying experience for those inside the house, he said, all of whom got out safely through blinding smoke. “When there is smoke throughout the house, it is pretty scary. I have only high praise for the fire department. They were superb.”

    The firefighters initially had to figure out how to gain access to the blaze, as the pantry was built resembling a safe room, of concrete with metal walls. Once they got the door to the room off its hinges they were able to battle the blaze, Mr. Baker said. The pantry was destroyed.

    Mr. Lee rented the house from Ms. Radziwill in 2000 for a reported $500,000 before buying it the year after for $19 million. It was torn down not long after and rebuilt to the same exterior specifications but with a brand-new infrastructure. It sits on three acres of land and has extensive views of the Atlantic and of the Maidstone Club golf course.

    Asked if it was true that Mr. Lee had given the Village Police Department two new Harley-Davidson motorcycles in 2008, Chief Larsen said yes, it was. And, said the chief, the financier replaced them last year with 2012 models.