Update: 'Catastrophic' Fire Devastates Sag Harbor Main Street Stores

Durell Godfrey

Update, 10 p.m.: Officials made the decision, after consulting with a structural engineer and historic preservationist, to demolish the facade of the Sag Harbor Cinema, as it was in danger of collapse. It was demolished around 8 p.m. The neon "Sag Harbor" sign was salvaged. 

Other buildings will have to be demolished, as well. Work has been suspended for the evening and will begin again on Saturday morning. 

Update, 5:10 p.m.: After government officials from across Suffolk County met on Friday afternoon in Sag Harbor, it was decided a structural engineer would assess the damage there before any buildings damaged in Friday's fire were demolished. 

Officials are worried, in particular, about the Sag Harbor Cinema. The facade has been separated from the rest of the structure — what is left of it, that is — and appears to be leaning, according to fire and building officials. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who was in attendance at a meeting held in the Municipal Building, is sending the county's chief engineer and an historic preservationist to assess the situation Friday night. Fire officials will light the area so they can fully view the destruction. 

All of the officials agreed, it is in the village's best interest to get Main Street in Sag Harbor opened sooner, rather than later. 

Update, 3 p.m.: Tom Preiato, the Sag Harbor Village building inspector, said he has demolition crews at the ready to knock down some of the buildings destroyed by the fire on Main Street Friday morning. It is not clear yet how many of the buildings will be demolished, but the Sag Harbor Cinema is one of them. While it is an historical landmark, it is too structurally compromised and dangerous to leave standing, he said. Many on Main Street have been asking whether the neon sign on the front of the building could be saved, but officials said it would be dangerous to retrieve. It also is not the original sign, but a replica that was put on the building about a decade ago. 

Update, 12:02 p.m.: Damage to several buildings, incuding the Sag Harbor Cinema, is "catastrophic," according to Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin McGuire. 

"It's probably one of the worst fires I've ever seen," said the police chief, who is a 14-year volunteer firefighter with the Sag Harbor Fire Department, which responded to the morning blaze. 

The fire has been fully extinguished nearly six hours after it began. No foul play is suspected, the chief said. However, fire marshals are investigating the exact origin of the blaze. 

Village Police Officer Randy Steyert was coming into work for his 6:30 a.m. tour and stopped at Sag Town Coffee when he smelled smoke. He found a second-story deck on fire in the back of the Compass real estate agency at 82 Main Street. He alerted the employees at Sagtown Coffee and then went upstairs to an apartment above Compass, banged on the door, and woke up a resident.

"There was enough time for him to get a jacket and shoes on and get out the door," Officer Steyert said. His apartment was not yet filled with smoke. 

The officer said it took about a minute for the fire to go from a small fire to fully engulfing the building. "Once the fire got going, Main Street was pitch black."

Firefighters arrived on scene within four minutes. The fire spread quickly with gusty winds from the northwest. Sag Harbor Cinema sustained significant damage, Chief McGuire said. "There was a partial collapse, if not a full collapse," he said of the roof. "There were firefighters in the building, but they pulled them out. They knew it was structurally unsafe." The cinema, which was built in the 1930s and has been on the market for $14 million, was a likely a total loss, he said. The iconic neon "Sag Harbor" sign that hangs on the exterior of the cinema remains intact. 

No one was injured.

The other buildings involved include the Corner Closet, Collette Luxury Consignment, the Brown Harris Stevens real estate agency, and Henry Lehr. "The smoke and water damage is going to be significant," Chief McGuire said. 

Village officials are working to determine how many people have been displaced from apartments above the stores. "We are going to make sure those people are taken care of," Chief McGuire said. Tom Preiato, the village building inspector, said he did not know immediately know how many apartments there were. 

Main Street, between Bay Street and Madiston Street, remains closed. The chief said the street could remain closed for a few days, depending on the weather. "The freezing weather changes things quite a bit." 

Icicles formed on the trees in front of the buildings where firefighters sprayed water from aerial trucks, and firefighters' gear was covered in ice. Large puddles formed in the municipal parking lot behind Main Street. Water flowing down Main Street iced over.

Twenty different departments from across the East End, from Montauk to Eastport, responded to assist either at the scene or to stand by at other firehouses. Chief McGuire estimated 300 firefighters and emergency medical service personnel responded. 

Firefighters took breaks in nearby buildings to warm up and have food and drink. Several businesses, including Baron's Cove, Schiavoni's, 7-Eleven, and Grindstone Coffee, dropped off food and coffee. 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is expected to visit Main Street by 3 p.m., according to Mayor Sandra Schroeder, who declared a state of emergency earlier on Friday. The declaration allows the village to recoup money for overtime policing and to access other emergency funding. 

This is the third major fire on Sag Harbor's Main Street. Mayor Schroeder recalled a serious fire at Ryder's luncheonette in the mid-1970s, and in 1994, a fire broke out at Emporium Hardware on Easter Sunday.

Update, 10:20 a.m.: While the fire on Main Street in Sag Harbor is largely extinguished, firefighters continue to dump water on the buildings and fight back pockets of flames. 

Mayor Sandra Schroeder declared a state of emergency for insurance purposes, she said from the Municipal Building, diagonally across from the fire. "It's slowing down. We haven't seen a flare up in 15 minutes or so," she said while fielding calls in the front office.

She said she first learned about the fire when "my husband's Plectron went off." Her husband is one of the many Sag Harbor firefighters called out to a deck fire at 78 Main Street. Tom Preiato, the village building inspector, said the deck is on the second story, in the rear of the Compass real estate building, to the south of Sagtown Coffee. The fire spread to neighboring buildings, including Sag Harbor Cinema, the Brown Harris Stevens real estate office, Collette Luxury Consignment, and Henry Lehr. 

There were reports that the Sag Harbor Cinema collapsed, but they could not be verified immediately and it was not evident from the front of the building.

Apartments above the buildings were evacuated, Mayor Schroeder said. She said she is most concerned about the emergency personnel and ensuring they do not get hurt. "Everything out there is nice and slick," she said. Firemen, dressed in their gear, are covered with icicles. 

Firefighters are taking breaks by ducking into the Municipal Building and other stores that are open in order to stay warm. Sag Harbor merchants, including employees at 7-Eleven, Grindstone Coffee, and others, brought food and coffee to Main Street for emergency workers. Baron's Cove on West Water Street is offering hot coffee, refreshments, and a warm place for firefighters and other emergency personnel. 

"That's why we all live here," the mayor said. 

No injuries have been reported.

"If anybody needs things, we'll try to help them. I think this is times when communities come together," Robby Stein, the deputy mayor, said.

The East Hampton Town fire marshal's office is investigating the fire. The office is contracted through the village to handle fire investigations.  Tom Baker, a fire marshal, has already responded. 

The mayor and deputy mayor asked that bystanders stay off Main Street due to icy weather conditions. "And we want them to stay out of the firefighters' way." 

Original, 7:50 a.m.: A fire broke out on Main Street in Sag Harbor Village that involved several buildings, including Sagtown Coffee, the iconic Sag Harbor Cinema, and others on Friday morning.

The fire was reported as on a deck at Sagtown Coffee, which is one of the business at 78 Main Street, at 6:11 a.m. With the high winds, flames quickly spread. Several people at the scene said flames spread to the Sag Harbor Cinema at 90 Main Street. Firefighters were also in the Brown Harris Stevens building at 96 Main Street.

Main Street is shut down in both directions from Madison Street to Bay Street. 

At 7:35 a.m., firefighters still reported flames showing in the coffee shop. At one point, around 7:15 a.m., flames could been seen from Long Beach across Sag Harbor Cove.

According to the National Weather Service, the wind is from the northwest at 9 to 17 mph with gusts as high as 29 mph. Wind chill values are between zero and 10. 

Every fire department on the South Fork, including Shelter Island, is assisting with the fire, whether helping to fight it or standing by at various firehouses in case there are other calls. 

The Friday morning fire is reminiscent of the 1994 Easter Sunday morning fire on Main Street in Sag Harbor that started in the Emporium Hardware and spread, destroying several businesses and displacing a dozen second-floor apartment residents. 

Check for more updates as they become available.