Seven of the 15 cats residing in the historic John L. Miller home in Great Neck died in a fire that drew at least 50 firefighters on Tuesday evening, with no human injuries reported but the house no longer habitable.
Scott MacDonald, the second assistant fire chief of the Vigilant Fire Company, said the fire broke out on the first floor around 6:34 p.m. and it was reported that someone could be trapped inside.
“We responded to 4 Warwick [Road] for a report of a house fire,” MacDonald said later that night. “Upon arrival there was smoke pumping everywhere out of the house.”
MacDonald entered the house with his water cannon to contain the flames, which had started to creep onto the second floor, with Vigilant Fire Chief Joshua Charry. It was during that search they found out that the owner was away – but not her cats.
“We finished the search and didn’t find any people, but we did find several cats,” Charry said.
Charry said that according to neighbors and friends of the owner, there were likely 15 cats in the house. Seven of them “succumbed to smoke inhalation.”
“We were able to account for maybe 12 or 13 of the cats,” Charry said, noting that a few likely “jetted out of the house” when firefighters entered the home. “Thankfully the fire itself was actually confined to the dining room, but there was significant water damage throughout the fire floor and significant smoke damage throughout the entire house.”
MacDonald said it took about 20 minutes to contain the fire. Units from Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department, Alert Fire Company and Port Washington Fire Department’s rehabilitation unit were present to assist.
“Unfortunately it’s been busy,” MacDonald said about the number of fire calls Vigilant Fire Company has received in recent weeks. “And the heat’s not helping us at all.”
According to Zillow, a real estate and rental marketplace website, the two-story Warwick house is a 2,702 sq. foot single family home with an estimated value of $1.38 million. Redfin, another real estate website, estimates the home’s worth at $1.04 million.
The current occupant is the daughter of John L. Miller, the former superintendent of the Great Neck Public Schools for whom Great Neck North High School is named, according to Charry and public records. The house was built in 1925 and is landmarked by the Town of North Hempstead, according to a plaque on the home.
There are no laws in the Town of North Hempstead – which has jurisdiction over unincorporated areas – controlling or regulating cats, according to the town’s Division of the Animal Shelter, which is part of the Department of Public Safety.
A notice placed on the boarded-up home by the Town of North Hempstead’s Department of Building, Safety Inspection & Enforcement says the “home is not to be occupied except to survey damage.”
It goes on to order the owner to board up the home within 24 hours, contact the building department within two weeks to notify the town of her intent to repair home, and notes that a building permit is required for making such repairs.
“You are hearby further ordered to contact the Town of North Hempstead Building Department immediately to set up an appointment to review your failure to comply with the Codes, Statutes and Regulations in effect in the Town of North Hempstead,” the notice also says.
The Nassau County Fire Marshal’s office said the fire was accidental and sparked by an electrical problem.