A 71-year-old artist died after being trapped in a fire that consumed his house at 198 Narrow Lane East in Sagaponack, opposite the entrance to the Wolffer Estate Stables, early Saturday morning. James Beres was pronounced dead at the scene by Southampton Town police, who were called in along with the town’s fire marshals, the Suffolk County Arson Squad, and the medical examiner’s office. It is normal procedure to call in these outside agencies when investigating a fatality that occurs in a fire. The family dog also died in the blaze.
Bridgehampton Fire Department volunteers were on the scene for eight and a half hours, putting out hot spots as best they could and working with investigators who were sifting through the burnt-out wreckage of what had been Mr. Beres’s house. His wife, Lovella Beres, managed to make it out of the conflagration alive.
“I thought I was dreaming,” a neighbor said of the siren that woke her up Saturday morning. One moment, she said, it was twilight outside. The next, the predawn darkness lit up as the house burst into flames. The neighbor declined to give her name.
“The house was fully engulfed in flames,” Bridgehampton Fire Chief Gary Horsburgh said Tuesday. “It was blazing. My second assistant chief, Jeff White, was first on the scene, and he said there was no way to get in.”
“We knocked it down in 45 minutes to an hour,” Chief Horsburgh said. The job, however, was not close to being finished. Because there was a fatality, an investigation into the fire was immediately launched, with firefighters assisting as they could while at the same time suppressing hot spots in the basement of the structure as they erupted. “It was a long day. My guys did an excellent job.”
The eight and a half hours spent on the scene was taxing for both firefighters and emergency medical teams, with reinforcements being brought in during the day. Adding greatly to the stress was the fact that Mr. Beres had died. “It is very tough on everybody. It hurts. It hits home,” Chief Horsburgh said.
One of the challenges in fighting the fire was a lack of nearby water. “East Hampton sent a tanker, and they had an engine standing by at headquarters,” Chief Horsburgh said. Sag Harbor firefighters were part of the fire team, and volunteers from Southampton’s department were on hand, as well.
Mr. Beres was a painter whose work has been displayed in galleries on the South Fork and in New York City. He had had emphysema and orthopedic problems in recent years, making rapid movement difficult, his family said in a release. His obituary will appear in a future issue
Cheryl Kraft, Southampton’s chief fire marshal, said yesterday that the county had taken the lead in the investigation into the cause of the fire. She considered it an open investigation.