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Sagaponack Barn Allegedly Ignited By Hazardous Materials

Posted on 28 June 2011

Heller_Schwenk Barn Fire_6709

By Claire Walla

On Sunday, June 26 at approximately 12:15 p.m. Southampton Town Police were alerted to a barn fire that erupted at Schwenks Farm on Montauk Highway in Sagaponack.

According to Southampton Town Fire Marshall John Rankin, the flames extended over the top of the barn by 20 to 25 feet, prompting help from at least seven volunteer fire departments in closest proximity to the East End parcel.

About 75 to 100 firefighters from Southampton Town, East Hampton Southampton Village, Amagansett, Sag Harbor, North Sea and Bridgehampton Fire Departments were on the scene at 3491 Montauk Highway, in the vicinity of Town Line Road and the Poxabogue Golf Center.   Rankin noted that three trucks were set-up with hoses, and an additional truck from Sag Harbor with a portable water tank assisted the fleet.

“They did pretty well,” Rankin said of the firefighting crew.  “They had the fire pretty much under control at about 1:45 p.m.,” which was when Rankin arrived on the scene.  “They were just getting ready to do salvage and overhaul when I got there.”

Though Rankin said no one was reportedly injured in the blaze, “unfortunately the building was a total loss.”

The fire is thought to have originated in the storage barn itself, which housed various farm equipment, including highly flammable grease and oils, as well as oxygen and Acetylene gas (materials that are often used in combination for welding).

“It appears as though Mr. Schwenk had been working inside the building prior to the fire,” Rankin explained.  “He was there that morning working on some stuff.”  One of the tasks he was reportedly working on included cutting a strand of polypropylene rope.  The Southampton Town Fire Chief noted that polypropylene rope is typically burned and therefore melted at the end to prevent the strand from fraying.   Though the official cause of the fire has not yet been officially determined, Rankin said “we’re working on the possibility that the rope had continued to smolder” after Schwenk left the building.

Because of the potentially hazardous materials stored in the old, wooden structure, Southampton Hazardous Materials Team responded to investigate the scene after the fire had been put out.

Rankin explained that there was a house and a garage located in relatively close proximity to the now-charred wooden structure, but said they were not threatened by the flames.

Southampton Town Police reported to the scene around 12:15 p.m. to set-up a perimeter around the building, which consequently blocked-off Montauk Highway between Sagg Road and Wainscott Harbor Road for about three hours.

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