A fast-moving fire swept through a Mattituck building complex Friday night, killing a 51-year-old man in his studio apartment despite the quick response of the building’s owner, Southold Police and the Mattituck Fire Department.
The fire destroyed four storefronts near Love Lane, including the anchor store, Liberty Data Systems, on Main Road, police said. The fire originated in the man’s apartment, police said. The owner identified the man as Paul Mittleman, who had lived in the apartment for about 18 months.
Steve Busch, who owns the building under 12800 Main Road LLC, said he received an alarm call at 10:42 Friday night. About three minutes later, Mr. Busch, who lives in Mattituck, arrived on the scene along with Southold police officer Andrew Garcia and a Mattituck fire chief.
They ran to the back of the building and saw smoke coming from a window, which had an air conditioner, he said.
They entered a hallway of the building and tried to open the apartment door, which was locked. Mr. Garcia threw his body against the door to try and open it but couldn’t as smoke was filling the hallway. The three men bolted back outside to catch their breath.
Mr. Busch grabbed a flashlight from Mr. Garcia and ran to his office, which was located in the same building, to find the key to the apartment.
“I held my breath, ran back into the back office,” he said. “In the bottom left drawer of my desk, I grabbed my key.”
Mr. Garcia opened the door and they found Mr. Mittleman lying on the floor, right at the door.
“Mr. Garcia pulled him out into the backyard,” Mr. Busch said, but Mr. Mittleman was already dead.
At that point, smoke was billowing out of the roof’s building as the fire quickly spread.
Mr. Busch said the fire marshall later told him there was nothing they could do because the fire moved so quickly.
Mr. Busch had known Mr. Mittleman for about a year and a half, he said. The two would sit out in the backyard behind the apartment and talk. Mr. Mittleman, who was living on disability payments, had spruced up the yard by planting shrubs and building a barbecue pit out of bricks and setting up tables and adirondack chairs, Mr. Busch said.
“This was his little paradise,” said Tom McCarthy, who owns the neighboring building to the east that houses Vintage Bike Tours. The building appeared to suffer minor damage.
The other stores that suffered serious damage were Renee’s Haircutter, Marshall Paetzel Landscape Architecture and AM Computer Consulting. The tenant who lives in an adjacent apartment was not home at the time of the fire and the apartment did not suffer any serious damage.
Mr. Busch said he believed the closest thing to family Mr. Mittleman had nearby was Father Thomas Murray, who recently left St. Agnes Church in Greenport.
“He considered the pastor in Greenport to be his brother,” Mr. Busch said. (Read more)
Fire departments from Mattituck, Cutchogue, Southold, Greenport, East Marion and Jamesport responded to the scene Friday night, while other North Fork departments were on standby.
The Suffolk County Police Arson Squad responded to assist in the investigation.
A Jamesport fireman injured his foot while battling the blaze, according to Jamesport fire officials. The fireman was treated at Peconic Bay Medical Center and released.
Fire trucks remained on the scene until about 4 a.m. At around 10 a.m. today, the Mattituck Fire Department returned to the scene to put out a few hot spots.
See more photos of the aftermath by clicking below: