Firefighters spent almost eight hours extinguishing a fire that destroyed the house at 57 West End Road. Photography by Michael Heller.
By Mara Certic
Seven fire departments spent most of the afternoon and evening of March 18 battling a fire that destroyed the East Hampton house of Hard Rock Café co-founder Peter Morton.
Strong winds fueled the fire, which otherwise “could have been manageable,” according to East Hampton Fire Department Chief Richard Osterberg. The oceanfront house at 57 West End Road caught fire apparently when construction workers used a torch on the roof. Pockets of fire continued to burn late that night. There were no injuries.
“The house is a total loss,” Chief Osterberg said over the phone on Friday. According to the chief, the 911 call came in at approximately 2:35 p.m.; nearly 100 firefighters responded to the call and the last tanker did not leave the scene until 10:30 p.m., almost eight hours later, he said.
Chief Osterberg said that the fire appeared to be accidental and that there was no reason to believe it was suspicious.
“The wind really didn’t do us any favors,” the chief said, noting that the house has wide open fields on one side and Georgica Pond on the other.
By the time the first firefighters were on the scene, it had become apparent that it would be too dangerous to allow firefighters into the building and instead they decided to attack the flames from the exterior, dousing the burning house with huge quantities of water.
Winter winds were blowing hot embers around and firefighters worried that the flames would spread. “The house to the east was our main concern,” the chief said. West End Road is long and narrow, Chief Osterberg explained, making it difficult for firefighters to get water from their tankers to the pumpers.
Not long after the call came through, other nearby departments were called in to provide mutual aid, the chief said. The Amagansett Fire Department sent a tanker as well as an engine and helped to lay hose, Mr. Osterberg said.
Members of the North Sea Fire Department were sent in to serve as standby at the Emergency Services Building on Cedar Street in case another emergency call came in.
At approximately 5 p.m., the North Sea firefighters responded to an alarm at East Hampton Airport, when a plane skidded off the runway. With North Sea responding to that call, volunteers from Hampton Bays were brought in to stand by at the East Hampton headquartes on Cedar Street.
According to East Hampton Town Police, David Bulgin, 62, of Sag Harbor was the pilot and the sole occupant of the Beechcraft Baron BE 58 that skidded off the runway after experiencing a landing gear malfunction after landing on the main runway.
The plane was damaged and had to be removed from the runway. Mr. Bulgin walked away from the scene unscathed. The Federal Aviation Administration will conduct a full investigation on the incident, according to a release issued by the East Hampton Town Police.
“Out here we’re so lucky—everyone works so well together,” Chief Osterberg said. In addition to all the help from various fire departments, Amagansett and East Hampton Village sent ambulances to the fire near Georgica and the village police were “a tremendous help.”
By the mid-evening, an excavation crew from Keith Grimes, Inc. was working on removing debris from the property, and by the next morning, thanks to village police keeping an eye on the house, there was nothing left burning on the land.
“I feel I have a good department, to know you have friends that are willing to do whatever” is great, Chief Osterberg added.