Odd Fires at Two Estates

At the guest house of the art dealer Larry Gagosian, 424 Further Lane in Amagansett, a fire began on May 21 after a landscaper used a propane torch to burn weeds — a common practice, said Tom Baker, an East Hampton Town fire marshal.

Mr. Baker surmised that dry leaves between the Belgian-block driveway and the guest house had smoldered and caught fire, which worked its way into the frame of the house and started to burn the wood.

A property manager discovered the blaze and used a fire extinguisher to put it out before firefighters arrived. An automatic alarm went off at 4:45 p.m. and members of the Amagansett Fire Department responded; the rest of the department was soon called in. Due to the long, narrow driveway, firefighters were directed to station their vehicles in a staging area along Further Lane and Skimhampton Road.

The fire was thought at first to be electrical in origin. Amagansett Fire Chief Dwayne Denton reported light smoke in the crawl space of the guest house. Firefighters used thermal imaging cameras to check behind the walls.

The single-story building, which is about 200 yards away from the main house, had minor structural damage, Mr. Baker said. The 11,000-square-foot main house, designed by Charles Gwathmey and known as Toad Hall, was heavily damaged three years ago, in a June 2011 fire that was linked to plumbing work.

A day earlier, on May 20, firefighters were called at 10:37 a.m. to a house owned by Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone and other magazines, after a fire started in a bathroom.

When the trucks arrived at 364 Further Lane they found heavy smoke and soot damage in the bathroom, and some smoke damage in other areas of the house.

Mr. Baker said towels that had been in wire bins in the bathroom had caught fire, but he quickly ruled out an electrical problem. He set everything back up in the bathroom, but was still puzzled. He was talking to himself out loud, he said, asking, “What am I missing?”

An employee of Mr. Wenner’s answered him: A cosmetic mirror that usually sits on a counter had been on the floor, near the towels, before the fire started. Workers had moved it into the shower as they tried to extinguish the blaze before firefighters arrived.

Mr. Baker said the mirror, in its original position, had caught the rays of the sun from a floor-to-ceiling window with southerly exposure and “acted like a magnifying glass and set the towels on fire.”

Though he described the incident as an oddity, he said he had seen it before, particularly with broken bottles in the woods starting a brush fire. “It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen,” he said. There were no injuries.

Motor Home Destroyed
Yesterday morning, a small motor home parked in a residential driveway in Springs was destroyed after a fire started in its engine compartment. The Springs Fire Department was called to 60 Hildreth Place at about 8:15 a.m. Chief Ben Miller said the owner, whose name was not released, was planning to leave for a Mets game and had started the vehicle’s engine. He then moved another vehicle in the driveway, and when he returned to the motor home, found its belts on fire. The chief said he tried to move the motor home, but by then the engine was dead. He grabbed a fire extinguisher to try to put out the flames, but they spread quickly, Chief Miller said.

“When I got there the engine compartment was fully involved,” the chief said. The department was concerned about the possible explosion of propane tanks in the vehicle — a 20-pound cylinder behind the passenger seat and on-board propane. They were able to remove the cylinder, and the on-board tank relieved itself through a safety device without a problem.

“We were aware and conscious of the gas that was in there. We took all the precautions necessary that we were away from the hazards as much as possible,” David King, the first assistant chief, who was first on the scene, said. “The tires did not pop.” 

The back of the 25-foot motor home was about 15 to 30 feet away from the house, the chief said, adding that the department did a good job of knocking down the flames quickly and containing the fire to the vehicle. “If it had been turned around in the other direction, it would have been a little more tenuous,” Chief King said.

The fire was extinguished in about five minutes, but not before the fire had burned the roof of the motor home and destroyed its interior. The Fire Department remained on the scene for about an hour, making sure there were no small pockets of fire left.  No injuries were reported. The East Hampton Town fire marshal’s office is investigating the exact cause.