Construction Debris Burn Causes Fire

The East Hampton Fire Department found heavy smoke and a fire in the living room of a house at 29 Hedges Banks Drive in East Hampton Thursday morning. Tim Garneau Photos

A fire broke out on the roof of a house in the Landfall section of Northwest Woods in East Hampton last Thursday after workers from an unlicensed company, doing renovations without a building permit, burned construction debris in a fireplace.

East Hampton Town police and fire departments responded to a report of smoke at 29 Hedges Banks Drive just before 8:55 a.m. The first police officer to arrive said flames were coming from the roof, near the chimney. Fire Chief Gerard Turza Jr. said there was heavy smoke in the house and the fire was venting from the roof. 

Four men, two of whom gave addresses in Queens, were outside when police arrived. They said they were renovating the house and had started a fire in the fireplace the night before to burn the debris.

Dwayne Denton, an East Hampton Town fire marshal who investigated the cause with Fire Marshal Tom Baker, said the workers put the fire out at around 9 or 10 p.m. without realizing there was a chimney cap. The fire smoldered on the rubberized roof all night before the men noticed smoke and called 911. 

Firefighters began what Chief Turza described as an “aggressive interior and exterior attack” and put out the blaze within 15 minutes of the first engines’ arrival. They remained on scene until 11 a.m. to conduct “an extensive overhaul, as the house was undergoing various stages of renovation work.” 

The damage was contained to half the house, the chief said, though there was extensive damage to the roof and living room area. Mr. Denton said the roof burned out about 8 to 10 feet from the chimney and down into the joists. 

A town police report identified the construction company as Selmani Brothers Inc., owned by Nedzad Salmanovic, who came to the house that day to pick up his workers. The company is based in Flushing, Queens. The fire marshal’s office, however, declined to name the owner, due to pending charges. Mr. Denton did confirm that the company is not licensed in the Town of East Hampton.

There was also no building permit for the work, he said. The homeowner, whom he identified as Tracey Stein of New York City, was aware of the work being done, he said. Police reported that the workers had permission to stay overnight at the residence, but Mr. Denton did not say whether they had actually done so. Ms. Stein could not be reached for comment.

There was no Dumpster on the property, Mr. Denton said, leading his office to believe the construction company was trying to avoid carting the debris 

away. Pieces of Sheetrock, lumber, and garbage such as food wrappers, had been burned in the fireplace. 

The fire marshal’s office said it was illegal to burn construction debris. “It’s not healthy, first of all,” Mr. Denton said, noting that plastics and paper are light  and are more likely to start an accidental fire. 

When Chief Turza arrived and saw the heavy smoke, he requested immediate assistance from the Sag Harbor Fire Department’s rapid intervention team, which is used to rescue interior firefighters should they encounter a problem. However, because East Hampton firefighters arrived and got to work so quickly, Sag Harbor was called off en route. The Springs Fire Department stood by at the East Hampton firehouse in case the department received any other calls. 

The East Hampton Village Ambulance Association also responded, to monitor the firefighters inside the house. Altogether, about 75 firefighters were on the scene. No injuries were reported.