MINEOLA, N.Y. – An early morning blaze on Fire Island destroyed several structures, including two well-known landmarks in a historic gay resort, and required dozens of firefighters to respond by ferry from the mainland of Long Island, fire and police officials said Friday.
The fire, which was reported at about 1:30 a.m., ruined an apartment complex known as Holly House, as well as the Grove Hotel, and left three firefighters with minor injuries, said Craig Williams, Cherry Grove assistant fire chief. A nightclub attached to the hotel called the Ice Palace avoided serious damage, Williams said.
Cherry Grove has been known since the late 1940s as a sanctuary where gay writers, actors and businesspeople from New York City and beyond escape to relax, hold hands and show affection in public.
“This is the largest fire we have had here in well over a decade,” said Williams, a volunteer who lives near Hackensack, New Jersey, and drove to Long Island early Friday to respond to the blaze.
The Suffolk County police arson squad and the town of Brookhaven’s fire marshal’s office were conducting routine investigations to determine the cause.
Two private homes were destroyed and three others also were damaged, Williams said. None of the structures or homes near the downtown business district in the primarily summer beach community was occupied.
The nearby Cherry Grove Community House and Theater, which opened in 1948 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, was not damaged, Williams said.
More than 100 firefighters from 22 departments responded to the blaze; some were taken by the Sayville Ferry Service across the Great South Bay to the scene on the barrier island about 60 miles east of Manhattan. It was not immediately clear whether the time to cross the bay to fight the fire contributed to the amount of damage inflicted by the blaze.
Williams and others noted that the historic Cherry Grove community, like many of the hamlets and villages along the 30-mile long barrier island 5 miles off the southern shore of Long Island, is primarily deserted this time of year.
“Thank God it wasn’t the height of the season,” Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, told The Associated Press after touring the devastation Friday afternoon. “Everyone would not have gotten out of that hotel. It is devastating and will take a lot of work to build it back, but the spirit of the people in Cherry Grove is very strong and we’re all going to help each other.”
Notable Cherry Grove visitors and residents have included poet W.H. Auden; playwright Tennessee Williams; author Truman Capote; actresses Nancy Walker, Tallulah Bankhead and Hermione Gingold; comedian Kaye Ballard; and New Yorker journalist Janet Flanner.