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City Island battles fire - and vandals

Teens eyed in museum blaze

Posted: July 31st 2007
The fire is long out, but the fear smolders on.

City Island residents have spent months battling vandals, who took it to another level in July when they allegedly set fire to the City Island Nautical Museum.

"We suspect strongly that it was a couple of teenagers setting off fireworks," said Barbara Dolensek, a museum trustee. "They hang out all the time in front of the museum, and we've seen evidence of their behavior."

Recent vandalism, including ripping mirrors off cars, slashing tires and setting fires, has made waves in the quiet, salty neighborhood, and the museum fire may serve as the island's Gulf of Tonkin against the hoods who cause the damage.

It was all hands on deck as 60 firefighters battled Friday night island traffic to douse the blaze, which caused serious damage to the building's facade but largely spared the artifacts inside.

The Civic Association is planning to put up a reward for information about the fire, and the FDNY and NYPD are investigating the incident as a crime. Although the cost to repair the building has not been determined, Dolensek said it will not be cheap.

The building, which opened as a public school in 1898, is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, meaning that all repairs will have to restore it to its original appearance.

In addition to the front porch being destroyed by the fire, the exhibit area suffered smoke and water damage.

One of the 16 apartments in the building also sustained severe damage, and the community center in the basement was flooded from hose water. It is still unknown when the museum will reopen or how long it will take to repair the damages.

Still, Dolensek said, it could have been much worse.

The fire at 190 Fordham St. began shortly before 9 p.m. on July 13. Local firefighters were on the scene almost immediately, but backup had to struggle over the crowded three-lane bridge leading to the island.

"Friday night is not a good time to have a fire," Dolensek said.

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