The small, one-story lakefront cottage at 225 South Shore Drive had been a fixture in Hamburg's Hoover Beach neighborhood and Norman Telaak's family for nearly a century.
Late Thursday, a quick-moving fire destroyed it and caused significant damage to a pair of neighboring homes. Law enforcement officials were continuing late Friday to probe the cause of the blaze that broke out about 11 p.m. and quickly consumed the wood-framed cottage with a faux-brick facade. No one was home at the time of the fire.
"No one was hurt. Everyone's alive. It's only a piece of property," Telaak said Friday, when reached by telephone at his permanent home in Derby. Telaak said his grandfather helped build the cottage. The family has a picture of the cottage from 1916.
"We had many, many, many memories there," said Telaak, 80, who said that he and his wife, Audrey, had been going to the cottage since they were first married in 1952, and his parents lived there for last two decades of their lives. "It's got a lot of great memories."
Telaak noted Hamburg town officials have told him what remains of the cottage must be demolished.
By 5 p.m. Friday, crews had already boarded up the charred shell of the structure. Meanwhile, crews from Stanley Steemer had five large trucks parked in front of the neighboring home at 227 South Shore Drive and were working to clean up heavy smoke and water damage there.
That home, owned by Michael and Sue Hasselbeck, played host to a 65th anniversary party to relatives of the Hasselbecks earlier Thursday, just hours prior to the fire, neighbors said. The Hasselbecks were in Texas at the time for a funeral but were expected to return late Friday.
Damage to their home was extensive. The flames from 225 South Shore caught the side of 227 South Shore on fire, melting the vinyl siding off the two-story home and charring the north side of the home and the eaves.
Firefighters were able to keep the fire from consuming the entire structure. However, the home suffered significant smoke and water damage. Neighbors said much of the contents – including antiques – were damaged. A sign greeting visitors – "Welcome to Our Lake House" – remained undisturbed in the front of the house Friday.
The vinyl siding of the home at 223 South Shore Drive, just north of the cottage where the fire originated, melted off, but it suffered much less overall damage than the Hasselbeck home. That home is owned by the Brysinski family.
Michael Brysinski, 34, was home at the time and initially called 911 after smelling smoke and seeing flames outside of his house.
"I just thought they had a bonfire (on the beach) or something like that," Brysinski said. "I saw fire coming out of the windows."
Brysinski said he grabbed the door but "it was hot" and then kicked it down. He yelled to anyone inside but was pushed back by smoke.
Neighbor Richard Ranic, who lives at 233 South Shore, which is next to the Hasselbeck home, said he was at the nearby Dock at the Bay restaurant with friends when the fire broke out. He returned home about 2 a.m. to find the fire trucks up and down his street.
"My other neighbor was trying to text me saying my neighbor's house was on fire, but I had my phone turned off," said Ranic. "Everybody looks out for each other."
The stretch of South Shore Drive has seen its share of devastation over the last three decades.
Ranic said the grassy lots between his home and the Hasselbeck house once featured two cottages that were destroyed by fire in 1988. Three years earlier, a massive lake storm destroyed a house where Ranic's home now stands and knocked a neighboring home off its foundation.
More than a half-dozen volunteer fire departments were called to the scene of Thursday's fire, including the Woodlawn Volunteer Fire Company, which was the first company on the scene.