Picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the Wildfire of 2012

04/13/2012 10:57 AM |

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Stanley Krupski watches as firefighters douse the remains of his property with water Tuesday morning.

George Moretti couldn’t understand it.

A few yards from his burned Manorville home, one of his vegetable gardens sat untouched. The roof of his gazebo in the backyard had collapsed onto the table, burned to a black crisp, but the plastic chairs inside were intact.

Plywood boards covered his house where the raging wildfire had leapt through an open window into his basement and torched the building’s supports; next door, his neighbor’s yard was barely singed.

“How does that work?” he asked. “How does that work?”

Mr. Moretti’s home was one of several properties damaged in the massive wildfires that swept from Ridge to Calverton Monday afternoon, claiming over 1,000 acres of forest. By Tuesday afternoon, the winds that had pushed the blaze toward Mr. Morretti’s house on Oakwood Drive had died down and firefighters were able to contain most of the fires.

That gave Mr. Moretti, his wife, Kathleen, and his son John a chance to return to their home of 25 years and begin to recover.

Before they evacuated the area, the Morettis said they were able to grab their laptop computers, photo albums and three pets. But some of their prized possessions, like Mr. Moretti’s vintage 1985 454 Kawasaki Limited motorcycle, were damaged beyond repair.

Friends and neighbors surrounded the couple Tuesday morning, offering their undamaged homes as a place to stay while insurance agents and cleaning crews cleared the home. The Morettis waited to see what else could be saved.

“We thought that was going to be a good fire break,” Mr. Moretti said, pointing to the field behind his home. But the fire had jumped the field, destroyed a nearby horse barn, crept over the property’s fence and ruined the garage before wrecking the house.

“If that barn hadn’t caught fire, we would’ve been all right. But nothing you can do about that,” he said.

As the wind shifted, residents could smell charred wood from the distant wildfires and simmering remains still burning miles away.

Down the road on Oakwood Drive, Dan and Cheryl Smith examined their 1994 Toyota Corolla, which destroyed by the fire. The sheds behind their house were gone as well, with only a ruined door as a clue to what once stood there.

“I expected to see supports or the roof [remain behind],” Ms. Smith said. “Nothing. Nothing. It just melted into thin air.”

While they lost the car (Ms. Smith said the couple was going to get rid of it anyway) and the two sheds filled with steel-working tools, their home sustained only smoke damage, she said.

The blaze had taken a sharp right turn just before it reached their house.

“The firemen said we should by all rights have lost the house,” Ms. Smith said.

About half a mile away, on Wading River Manor Road, Stanley and Dennis Krupski of Calverton sat on ceramic pots outside their property Tuesday morning, stunned.

Their repair shop, where they had worked on their No. 12 late-model race car to compete at Riverhead Raceway, was burned to the ground. Only a gray wall was left, leaning precariously against some debris. The property had been in their family for more than 90 years.

Stanley Krupski took long drags on a cigarette as he walked around the property with his cane and surveyed the damage. The storage shed where they kept their car parts was burned down to its foundation. A nearby horse trailer used for storage was still smoldering and a vintage bus had melted nearly in two.

He nodded his head at a burned-out car where fire crews had tied off yellow warning tape.

“It was a Jeep,” Mr. Krupski said softly. He paused, then sighed. He threw the cigarette onto the gray, soot-covered dirt, stomping it under his shoe. “Was.”

psquire@timesreview.com