07/01/13 8:30am

JULIE LANE PHOTO I Mixed emotions, but mostly relief, are shared by Herb and Yvonne Loinig that debris is finally being removed from the grounds at Belle Crest Inn where a February fire caused heavy damage, but thankfully, no loss of life.

Owners humbled by Island’s generosity

In their many years of marriage, Yvonne Loinig never saw her husband Herb cry. But on the night of February 6, looking at the rubble left from a fire that had severely damaged their Belle Crest Inn — a bed and breakfast they have operated for 30 years — Mr. Loinig’s tears flowed.

More than four months later, he still gets teary eyed remembering awakening that cold winter night to passersby hammering on their door to alert them to the fire. Good Samaritans Ian and Victoria Weslek were on their way home from a late dinner when they passed the 100-year-old B&B and saw the flames shooting through the roof. Then, fast acting and heroic work by the Shelter Island FireDepartment prevented a disaster.

“We’re happy to be here,” Mr. Loinig said last week, noting that had it not been for the Wesleks, they might have perished.

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

Sitting on the porch of the inn, amidst rubble that still lingers from the fire — rubble they were told they couldn’t remove until the insurance company completed its evaluation of the damage — the couple said fire turned their lives upside down.

“It was like a metamorphosis,” Ms. Loinig said. The Loinigs said they knew how to reach out to others but gad trouble accepting assistance.

“She spent all her life giving to people as a nurse,” Mr. Loinig said, nodding at his wife.

“I have put aside pride and realized you’re not begging or asking for anything,” Ms. Loinig said about people who stepped up to help.

“It was unbelievable how people were coming to our aid,” she added.

Less than two weeks after the blaze, the Loinigs submitted a letter to the Reporter thanking the many people who had helped including the Wesleks who woke them that night; the Shelter Island, Greenport and Sag Harbor firefighters who responded quickly and efficiently to bring the blaze under control and save what could be saved; EMS workers who tended to their needs; Shelter Island Police who helped them escape the flames with their dog and cat in tow; the Fire Department Women’s Auxiliary for providing comfort that night; and North and South ferry crews for running late boats to accommodate the fire aid that came from both the North and South forks.

They also expressed gratitude to Matt Goody for helping to coordinate the efforts of their neighbors, Charlotte and Frank Cerasoli, who provided them with housing while they worked to straighten out their living situation; and Jimmy Olinkiewicz and his crew for securing the inn so it could withstand a blizzard that struck just three days later.

They remain optimistic the old house is structurally sound and can be renovated. But they estimate they lost about $700,000 in contents, most of which can never be recovered. Insurance will help them with the renovations, but doesn’t cover what’s been lost, Mr. Loinig said. And, of course, money can’t buy some of what was lost — antiques, family pictures and mementoes.

Living surrounded by the debris these many months has been like an assault to their already bruised emotions. The Loinigs were relieved to get word late in June they could finally authorize removal of the rubbish. That process is under way.

But thanks to friends and neighbors, healing of the soul is also taking place, the Loinigs said.

People she didn’t previously know have stopped her at IGA to inquire how the couple is doing, Ms. Loinig said.

“They know what happened to us and are asking out of concern,” she said.

Clearly, the delays have resulted in losing the critical summer season when they would have enjoyed hosting guests at the inn. The only positive, Mr. Loinig said, is he hasn’t had to stay up late waiting for late arriving guests this summer.

But both admit they look forward to the inn will reopening so they can resume the life they love on Shelter Island.