Fire Marshal: Cause of Sag Harbor Fire Undetermined

On Tuesday morning, demolition workers continue to take away the debris after knocking down the Compass building in Sag Harbor. Taylor K. Vecsey

Despite reports that cigarettes were blame for the fire on Friday that destroyed several Main Street buildings in Sag Harbor, including the lobby of the Sag Harbor Cinema, fire investigators have yet to pinpoint a cause. 

"I strongly don't feel it's the cigarettes," Tom Baker, the East Hampton Town fire marshal leading the investigation, said on Tuesday afternoon. While "a bunch of cigarettes" were found on the ground in the rear of the Compass realty building at 84 Main Street, he did not find evidence that they sparked the early morning fire. "They were dropped to the side of the steps — well below where the fire started." 

The origin of the fire is listed as undetermined as of now, Mr. Baker said. What he does know for sure is that the fire started outside of the Compass building. During his investigation at the scene, he pulled apart the wooden steps leading to the real estate office and found what he described as charring. "There's no way to get anything down in there. I couldn't have flicked a cigarette down there," he said. He found telephone and cable lines behind the area, but cannot say for sure that the fire was electrical, even after consulting with an electrical underwriter on Tuesday. 

PSEG-Long Island responded to the fire early on to turn the power off while firefighters battled the flames — something Mr. Baker said was a sound decision to keep firefighters safe. But because lines were cut, he could not explore whether there were any issues at the power source. 

"Because the building is not there anymore, I can't go back and investigate," Mr. Baker said, referring to the demolition of the Compass building. Tom Preiato, the village building inspector, was concerned about the structural integrity of the building and called for its demolition. Mr. Baker said he took photographs while he was on scene throughout the weekend, but that nothing subsitutes for sifting through debris in person.

"I'm thinking it's something catastrophic," Mr. Baker said. An employee who opened up Sagtown Coffee, to the north of the Compass building, reported walking by the back of the building at 5:30 a.m. and not seeing or smelling anything. A police officer who reported the fire was the first to see flames on the deck of an apartment on the second floor, at 6:11 a.m. 

Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin McGuire said on Tuesday morning that he has spoken directly with the Suffolk County arson investigators, who were called in to assist the East Hampton Town fire marshal's office in investigating the fire because of the extent of the damage, and that they also have said the cause remains undetermined.  

"Cigarettes," Chief McGuire said, are"one of the many causes they are investigating," 

"It's a very long, arduous process," Chief McGuire said of fire investigations. There was a large amount of debris to sift through, compounded by roof collapses, and the thousands of gallons of water doused on the buildings to put out the flames. After consulting with the county's chief engineer, Mr. Preiato made the call to demolish the facade of the cinema after consulting with the county's chief engineer, and on Monday decided that the Compass building should also be demolished.  

"I'm sure everybody wants to know exactly what happened, but it's going to take time," Chief McGuire said. 

Mr. Baker will continue his investigation as he works with insurance investigators in the coming weeks.