Owner says ‘hard work ahead’ in rebuilding Fire Island landmarks after ‘unfathomable’ blaze

AFTERMATH OF FIRE ISLAND FIRE: As flames destroyed several landmarks on Fire Island, including what have been the world’s most famous gay nightclub, former journalist Andrew Kirtzman vowed to begin the “hard work,” with his two management partners, of rebuilding what was destroyed by an “unfathomable” fire that officials have initially deemed accidental.

Photo Credit: Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society
Photo Credit: Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society
Photo Credit: Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society

PHOTO COURTESY: Fire Island News

“Both the Pavilion and LaFountaine buildings are still standing, but they have been completely gutted by fire and water,” Kirtzman wrote early this morning, while firefighters were still extinguishing the blaze.

“Sip n’ Twirl, the Bistro and the stores below them are in ruin. The roof over the Pavilion is gone, and the high tea deck has been destroyed,” added Kirtzman, who, with his partners, bought several of the properties last year.

“Small fires are still burning inside the Pavilion – the dance floor – and it’s too dangerous for firefighters to enter inside,” Kirtzman wrote on Facebook. “The department has called for bulldozers to be brought here from across the bay, as it may be safer to destroy the Pavilion altogether rather than fight the remaining blazes. It is an unfathomable moment.

“The air in the harbor is still thick with smoke,” he added, “but the fire has not spread anywhere else, thanks to the incredible work of the Pines Fire Department and the departments that raced to its aid…. Canteen, Blue Whale, the hotel and Pantry are all fine.

“The Suffolk Country Fire Department believes the fire began outside the LaFountaine office, engulfed that building and then spread to the Pavilion. Officials tell me they don’t believe the fire to be suspicious.”

PHOTOS COURTESY Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society

Three hundred firefighters from 31 departments responded
to the wind-swept blaze, which apparently began around 9:15 p.m. and took more than three hours to finally bring under control.

No injuries were immediately reported. One home was reported destroyed.

“After 26 years of being a Community member of the Pines, I was not prepared to come home from Florida tonight to face such devastating news,” Patty Rosado wrote on Facebook.

“I do, however, know that those of us who have always believed in the fortitude and resiliance of its people will once again work again to rebuild and help those who have suffered properly losses to bring our haven back to life,” she added. “It is a setback, but the most important thing is that so far [on Monday] no one has been hurt.”

Unconfirmed accounts had the fire starting at the Sip N’ Twirl, an extremely popular gay disco, then hitting propane tanks at La Fountaine that exploded, spreading the flames to the Pavilion, the Pines Bistro and a bayfront home.

Walter Boss of the Fire Island Pines Fire Department told The Fire Island News that the fire destroyed the Pavilion, La Fountaine, the Sip N’ Twirl complex that includes the Bistro and a bay front home.

“There was lots of smoke, lots of fire, lots of everything,” said Ocean Beach Fire Department spokesperson Ian Levine told The Fire Island News.

The Fire Island Pines (affectionately known as “Chelsea with sand”) technically is a hamlet in the Suffolk County town of Brookhaven. It has the most expensive real estate on the island, with roughly 700 houses over a square mile. Although few people live there year-round, the summer population stretches into the thousands, making it a gay mecca.

More than half the residents make more than $300,000 a year, according to the local property owners’ association, the New York Times reported last year. Houses often rent for $10,000 or more a week in summer. Famous residents have included Calvin Klein, David Geffen and Tommy Tune.

Originally known as the Sandpiper, the building that had been there became the Pavillion in 1979 before being razed at the end of the 2006 season and replaced just four years ago with the nightclub that burned down last night.

A year and a half ago, the Pines were bought by an ownership team that calls itself FIP Ventures: Matthew Blesso, an investor and developer of innovative high-end real estate in New York and abroad; Kirtzman, a former reporter for New York 1 News and WCBS and the author of a book about Bernie Madoff; and Seth Weissman, a Pines summer renter and managing partner of a Manhattan-based real estate investment firm.

“Please remember Fire Island Pines is more then just buildings, it is an institution, it is a community,” Sip N’ Twirl owner P.J. McAteer wrote on Facebook. “We will survive!”

Kirtzman was equally optimistic:

“[This] morning, Seth, Matt and I will begin the process of renewing this beautiful property and making it even more spectacular than it was before. Our hearts go out to Nicole LaFountaine, Patrick, PJ, Bob Howard and others in the LaFountaine building, and we will help one another get the commercial district ready for summer 2012. There is a lot of hard work ahead for all of us.

“We feel blessed that no one was injured, and proud to be part of this beautiful community.”

“We need to be positive and we will rise again, will rebuild!!” added a distraught but determined Donna M. Schubert.

“Bless our Fire Island Pines & much love and thanks to our Courageous Fire Fighters from Pines & all other towns that came to our rescue of our community, we are all so grateful!!” the North Bergen native added. “This may be a very sad night & our hearts go out to those who have lost so very much from this horrible tragic fire.

“But just know we all stand together in our Magical community called the Pines and we shall overcome and rebuild for a new and brighter future!!”

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