Fatal Fire, 31 May 1947

On 31 May 1947 a fire destroyed a house on the northwest corner of Beaver Dam and Old Stump Roads. All four members of the Donald Barry family were killed. Residents of the east wing of the house escaped.

The lot on which the house stood remains vacant to the present time.

Donald J. Barry was a son of William and Lillian Velzora Murdock Barry. His wife was Dorothy Allen Swezey, a daughter of Everett and Lila Swezey. Dorothy’s first husband was Lawrence Costa, who was killed in action on 12 June 1944 during WW II.

This article is a transcript of the account in the Patchogue Advance, 5 June 1947.

Patchogue Advance, 5 June 1947. Page 1.

Family of Four Claimed by Fire; 3 Others Escape

Heater Thought to be Cause of Brookhaven Tragedy; Vet, Wife, 2 Children Die.

Flaming death claimed a family of four, trapped in their burning rooms in a 4:15 a. m. fire Saturday at Beaver Dam road and Yaphank avenue [now known as Old Stump Road], Brookhaven. Three members of another family escaped, but lost all their possessions excepting a baby carriage. The fire was believed to have been caused by a poorly-regulated kerosene water heater.

Victims of the fire are:
Donald Barry, aged 28; his wife Dorothy, aged 26; and her two children by a former marriage, Lawrence Costa, aged 6, and Thomas Costa, aged 3.

wakened by Daughter
Awakened by the cries of their infant daughter, Denise, aged 10 months, Ernest Leger, aged 41, and his wife Jacqueline, aged 25, managed to escape the burning house. A son, John, aged 4, was staying with his grandmother in Yaphank.

After calling the Fire department, Mr. Leger rescued his wife and baby from their smoke-filled room in the east section of the two-story frame building.

Although he could hear Mr. Barry’s frantic calls for help, Mr. Leger’s attempts to enter the Barry’s section were useless. Flame and smoke repeatedly prevented their rescue, driving him back repeatedly from the door and from windows which he smashed with an axe.

Flames enveloped the house when Brookhaven Fire department, let by Chief Paul Robinson, arrived at 4:30. It was impossible to enter the blazing building. A call to the Bellport Fire department brought a pumper and hook and ladder immediately under the direction of Chief Donald Shaw.

The house collapsed shortly after the firemen’s arrival. Water drawn from the nearby Carman river failed to check the fire.

Two loud explosions, believed to be of kerosene tanks, awakened a neighbor, Mrs. Alan Baker, at about 4:15 a. m. She aroused her husband, thinking the noises were shots. From their window they could see the burning house. Dressing hastily they arrived as Mr. Leger was attempting unsuccessfully to enter the Barry quarters.

Badly burned, the four bodies of the Barry family members were identifiable only by size and by rings worn. Mr. Barry was found bent over one child on the bedroom floor. The other child was in the bathtub, where his mother had apparently placed him in an attempt to save his life.

After Coroner Grover A. Silliman arrived, the bodies were taken to the C. W. Ruland Sons funeral home in Patchogue.
Chief Edward N. Bridge of the Brookhaven Town police; Investigator John L. Barry of the district attorney’s office; Lt. Arthur Waldron of the Brookhaven Town police; and two cars of patrolmen, investigated the fire.

The Barry’s kerosene hot water heater, which police believe was the cause of the blaze, was found with both burners turned to the “Light” position. Because it was left at this position, the gravity-fed flow of oil seeped from the burner, ignited, and caused the fire. If the heater had had a safety valve, or if the burners had been adjusted after they were lit, the disastrous fire might not have occurred.

At midnight, according to Ledger, Barry made coffee on the stove and invited him over for a cup. He accepted and later on said, “Good night,” and returned to his side of the house where he retired. It is believed the Mr. Barry forgot to turn the valves down which caused the oil to flood the burners.

Mr. Barry was a well-liked employee of the Brook Store, operated by Thomas Lyons on the South Country road, Brookhaven. An Army pilot during the war, he won the Distinguished Flying Cross. He is survived by his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. William Barry of Brookhaven, and his brother, William Barry, of Bay Shore. Mrs. Barry is survived by her mother, Mrs. Everett Swezey of Locust avenue, Brookhaven.

Services for the Barrys were held at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Brookhaven Presbyterian church, the Rev. R. B. Gamewell officiating. Interment of the four fire victims was at Woodland cemetery in Bellport.

Neighbors Offer Aid
Sympathetic neighbors immediately came to the relief of Ernest Leger and his family after they lost their entire possessions in Saturday morning’s tragic fire in Brookhaven. The Brookhaven Red Cross chapter has offered assistance and a fund has been collected for the Ledgers by Thomas Lyons and Alex Kosenkranius. Mr. Kosenkranius is Mr. Leger’s employer. Wearing apparel is also being collected.