Belle Crest Inn owners saved from blaze


JULIE LANE PHOTO | Yvonne and Herbert Loinig comfort each other Thursday morning in front of the Belle Crest Inn, their home and business, after a fire devastated the historic structure Wednesday night.

A little after 9 p.m. Wednesday Yvonne Loinig had just talked to her daughter Aimee in Connecticut, a nightly ritual, before drifting off to sleep with her husband, Herbert. The owners of the Belle Crest Inn on North Ferry Road were in preparations for a March opening of their 100-year old bed and breakfast.

Ms. Loinig was thankful to be alive, she said Thursday morning, standing in the ruined parlor of the Inn. Thankful, but stunned by the fire that ripped though the historic structure Wednesday night, trashing the two top floors and damaging the entire house.

Ms. Loinig and Herbert had been rescued from the blaze by the actions of passersby Ian and Victoria Weslek who got them out of the house. It  took the Shelter Island Fire Department nearly two hours to fully get the fire under control as it raced through the top of the grand old house perched on a rise above the road.

Ms. Loinig stood in a hat and coat in the wreckage of her home and business, recalling the terrifying night that had begun so routinely. The smell of scorched wood, furniture and carpeting filled the once-cozy room. She stared at large blocks of plaster crumbling on an antique table below a manhole-sized cavity in the ceiling dripping water, and described the rush of events that started when she came fully awake Wednesday night.

“I was almost asleep when I heard some people outside talking loudly,” she said. “I thought they were having some kind of disagreement. I heard a man yelling, ‘Get out! Get out!’”

Her husband went to the front door. Ms. Loinig heard him asking who was making such a commotion outside.

“Then I heard a man say, ‘Get out, your house is on fire,’” Ms. Loinig said.

The Wesleks were returning home from dinner at Sweet Tomatoes about 9:45 p.m. when Victoria spotted flames soaring from the roof of the Belle Crest. She called 911 immediately and Mr. Weslek raced to the front door and began pounding on it.

“If someone didn’t answer the door in a minute I was ready to rip it off its hinges,” Mr. Weslek said, surveying the damage on the second floor Thursday morning. He had come by to offer any assistance he could to the family.

“The fire department was here in four or five minutes,” he said. “It was unbelievable how fast. That’s what I love about Shelter Island.”

The Shelter Island Fire Department responded to the blaze at 9:48, Chief John D’Amato said.

After an investigation by the Shelter Island Police Department and the fire department, it was determined the origin of the fire was the result of “a compromised interior brick and mortar chimney,” according to the police department.

“It took almost an hour for our guys to knock down the fire,” the chief said Thursday, adding that the Sag Harbor and Greenport departments were called to assist. “We needed bodies,” the chief said. “Our guys were getting tired.”

The attic was filled with objects and paper, or what Mr. Loinig described to the chief as “40 years of stuff,” perfect material to keep a fire stoked.

“It was pretty warm up there,” the chief said. One Shelter Island firefighter sustained a minor burn to his wrist. He was taken to Eastern Long Island Hospital, was treated and released.

Every agency worked efficiently to prevent a catastrophe, Chief D’Amato said, with the police department securing the area and the ambulance volunteers standing by.

“The only thing important was the two people standing in the street,” the chief said, speaking of the Loinigs.

Aimee Loinig, who lives in New Haven, Connecticut, arrived early Thursday morning to help her parents.  She stood with Mr. Weslek in an upstairs hallway amid fallen plaster, scorched insulation and wooden beams turned to charcoal.

“You’re a hero,” Ms. Loinig said to him.

Devastated to see a place where she had grown up — and still helped her parents manage in the summer — Ms. Loinig comforted her mother in the dark living room. The two women stood on a waterlogged rug as Mr. Loinig  put down buckets to catch drips.

“Things can always be worse,” Ms. Loinig told her mother. “We’re going to be all right.”