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Greenport firefighters help battle Shelter Island house fire during blizzard

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO The aftermath of a fire on Penny’s Path that originated from a portable generator on Saturday afternoon.

At around 1:45 p.m. Saturday, at the height of the blizzard, Shelter Island Fire Department Chief Greg Sulahian was driving near West Neck Harbor.

He heard the Center firehouse whistle and simultaneously the radio started to crackle. A house was on fire on Penny’s Path in Silver Beach.

A neighbor — who preferred not to give her name — living diagonally across the street, looked out to see flames leaping from the attached garage of the one-story house.

“It was frightening,” the neighbor said.

Chief Sulahian was at the scene in 45 seconds. “It was fully involved,” he said.

A middle-aged man and woman and a woman in her 20s, at home when the fire started, took refuge with neighbors, the chief said.

The three escaped without injuries, according to Detective Sergeant Jack Thilberg of the Shelter Island Police Department, which responded to the incident along with Emergency Medical Services.

One firefighter slipped on the ice, the chief said, and pulled a muscle. He was taken to the hospital for evaluation and released.

The blaze eventually took two hours to put out, with 40 fire fighters on the attack. Greenport Fire Department volunteers assisted at the scene and the Sag Harbor Fire Department manned the Center firehouse in case another emergency call came in while the fire in Silver beach was being fought.

The garage was gutted by the fire, as well as part of the kitchen, the chief reported, with smoke damage throughout the rest of the house.

According to the police, a gasoline-powered portable generator one of the occupants was operating started the fire.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

It’s fire department procedure to monitor the scene of an extinguished fire every two hours or so, the chief said, and that evening it was noted that the fire had rekindled.

“Carbon fibers under a car in the garage caught fire,” Chief Sulahian said. After evaluating the situation, it was determined to remove the car from the garage and a Highway Department payloader was called in.

“We got a chain on the car and pulled it out,” Highway Department Superintendent Jay Card Jr. said.

The fire was then extinguished.

Veterans of the department are familiar with battling blazes in storms, Chief Sulahian said. It’s a particularly dangerous time of year, because of unclean chimneys and fireplaces in use and gasoline-powered generators that are not in good working order.

The challenges of a battling a fire in a winter storm are many. High winds are a constant threat to spread the fire to other structures, and also “there’s stuff blowing at you and hitting you,” the chief said. Cold temperatures add to the fatigue of firefighers and water turning to ice poses multiple obstacles.

The idea of “situational awareness, knowing what’s going on at all times,” is even more important in a winter storm, the chief added.

The neighbor who saw the flames coming from the house on Penny’s Path during the blizzard was walking her dog down the street Monday morning. She was thankful for the professionalism and efficiency of the fire department volunteers.

“Their response was amazing,” she said.

Photo: The aftermath of a fire on Shelter Island that originated from a portable generator on Saturday afternoon. (Credit: Ambrose Clancy)