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Officials: Sunday Fire at Lawrence Aviation Poses No Environmental Risk

Fire was on a building away from industrial area of the property.

A on Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson had nervous residents calling police to make sure the black smoke and flashes of light weren’t toxic.

One resident who did not wish to be identified said that he called police Sunday night after seeing black smoke above woods lining the area around the facility asking if they should evacuate.

He said they did not have to leave the area.

Jennifer May, Special Projects Coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in an email to Patch on Monday that there were “no environmental impacts from the fire.”

“It was in an empty office building nowhere near where we are working,” she said.

May did confirm that the fire knocked out a transformer that powers the pump and treatment plant on the Lawrence Aviation site,

“The shutdown of the system will only cause a brief delay in the long-term cleanup and will have no immediate impact,” she said.

The said that the most likely cause of the fire was an electrical wiring issue in the abandoned office building on the facility but the final determination would be made by the fire marshal.

According to Fireman Dennis Whittam, a spokesperson for the –whose fire district the property lies within–the abandoned building used to be the office building of Lawrence Aviation Industries.

“The good thing is that it wasn’t in the industrial part of the property,” he said.

Eyewitness reports initially said that there were flashes and explosions on the site but Whittam could not confirm any explosions saying that there was a “pop from the electrical transformer.”

He called the fire “literally a ball of flame” saying that they couldn’t tell if there was even a second story on the building because there was “so much flame.”

On Aug. 17 went up in flames and in that case too Wittam said the building was “burned beyond recognition.” He speculated that the structure in that fire was a “shed or something” but couldn’t tell because of the extent of the damage.

He said that both structures involved in the fire were nearby each other on the property.

“It was in the area,” he said. “Very close to the same building.”

On Monday, firefighters returned to the property and with the help of a town-owned pay loader, they lifted up debris and wet it down to put out any smoldering fires.

According to Whittam, the fire started at about 10 p.m. on Sunday night and the “guys returned to the station at about 2:30 a.m.”

Six other surrounding fire departments were called to the scene to help fight the fire including Port Jefferson, Setauket, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Selden and Coram.

The cause of the fire is currently under investigation by the Port Jefferson village Fire Marshal.

Rick September 07, 2011 at 12:55 AM
Interesting comment from the EPA. Now, put yourself in the position of a person living on Park Ave or Katherine Street on the night of the fire. For quite a while, even down in Port Jeff Village, we were smelling smoke, well before the first alarm was called (Port Jeff FD responded first, for what it is worth). No one knew where the smoke was coming from, at least until someone on Park called in that he saw fire and "it was moving fast". All the folks on Park and Katherine knew, at first, was that a Superfund site was on fire. Does it really matter, after the fact, that the EPA says there were no threats to public safety of the environment? Or in other words, you're sitting on those two streets, watching smoke roll in - what is your first move? Wait for an EPA mouthpiece to assure you that you're not inhaling TCE combustion byproduct and/or hydrofluoric acid vapor? Now, take it from a first responders standpoint - you roll up to this site after cutting the fence (EPA wasn't there to open it), what sort of fire are you looking at? Chemicals or simple structure fire? The site needs to be condemned and razed. Doesn't matter that the EPA assures us after the fact that there was no hazard, and through some magic that they've determined from the flattened structure that this was electrical in nature, and not arson. Sorry to sound annoyed, but this sounds like a self serving press bite from an official that hasn't looked at the factual trail.
diamond September 07, 2011 at 03:04 PM
The smoke was all over Port Jeff Village. I did not believe the epa ten years ago when they said Ground Zero was safe I dont believe them now. As a govt agency they will and have said whatever seems best, and not the truth, Diamond
Rick September 07, 2011 at 05:57 PM
It is easy enough to compare the old aerial photographs of the site and compare them with Google or Bing aerial photos to see the before/after of the cleanup. The "before" pictures were impressive, from the standpoint of the numbers of old, rusting drums. So I don't believe the EPA would be lying about material being removed. However, I do question whether the authoritative statement was actually factual, given that it was produced a short time after the fire, before the ruins even stopped smoldering. Anyways, as you point out, the smoke came rolling down the hills into the Village, no one knew where it was coming from, then finally LAI was identified as the fire site. Sort of late by then if the material that was burning was actually toxic. That's why the remaining structures and material should be removed - by the time you know you have a problem, you have already been exposed. The smoke plume was particularly impressive for about 20 minutes, with pitch black smoke clearly visible even in the dark night time sky.
Frank September 08, 2011 at 12:39 AM
The only power to the site goes to the pump and treat building, so how can the fire start start in that building due to an electrical problem? The power to the site was turned off years ago due to non payment by the owner, who hopefully is in prison. Also, all toxic materials have been removed from the site. Most likely the fire was started by some local kids.

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