Fire Island

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Fire Island

Fire Island is one of the outer barrier islands adjacent to the south shore of Long Island, New York. It is approximately 50 kilometers (31 mi) long and varies between 160 and 400 meters (520 and 1,300 ft) broad. Fire Island is part of Suffolk County. It comprises a number of hamlets, census-designated places (CDPs), and villages, all of which lie within the towns of Islip, Brookhaven and Babylon.

The land area of Fire Island is 22.5 square kilometers (8.7 sq mi). According to the 2010 census there is a permanent population of 292, expanding to hundreds of thousands of residents and tourists during the summer months.



Map of Fire Island National Seashore

Fire Island is approximately 8.9 kilometers (5.5 mi) south of Long Island, but varies widely. It is separated from Long Island by a series of interconnected bays: Great South Bay, Patchogue Bay, Bellport Bay, Narrow Bay, and Moriches Bay. The island is accessible by automobile via Robert Moses Causeway on its western end and by William Floyd Parkway (Suffolk County Road 46) near its eastern end. Motor vehicles are not permitted on the rest of the Island, except for utility, construction and emergency access and with limited beach driving permits in winter. The island and its resort towns are accessible by boat, seaplane and a number of ferries, which depart from Patchogue, Bay Shore and Sayville.

Fire Island is located at 40° 39' 35" North, 73° 5' 23" West (40.653188, -73.125795).[1] According to the United States Census Bureau, Fire Island has a total area of 22.64 km2 (8.742 mi2), which includes 0.1415 km2 of water.

2009 beach renourishment

In the winter and spring of 2009, a beach renourishment project was undertaken on Fire Island, with the cooperation of the National Park Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Towns of Brookhaven and Islip and Fire Island residents. The renourishment program involved dredging sand from an offshore borrow area, pumping it onto the beach and shaping the sand into an approved beach face and dune template in front of the communities of Corneille Estates, Davis Park, Dunewood, Fair Harbor, Fire Island Pines, Fire Island Summer Club, Lonelyville, Ocean Bay Park, Ocean Beach, Saltaire, and Seaview. Fire Islanders agreed to a significant property tax increase to help pay for the project, which was estimated to cost between $23 and $25 million ($6,020 per housing unit), including the cost of environmental monitoring, and was expected to add 1,400,000 cubic meters (1,800,000 cubic yards) of sand in front of the participating communities. The Towns of Brookhaven and Islip, in which the communities are located, issued bonds to pay for the project, backed by the new taxes levied by community Erosion Control Taxing Districts.


Fire Island Lighthouse, east of Robert Moses field 5.

Geographical history

The physical attributes of the island have changed over time and it continues to change. At one point it stretched more than 60 miles (97 km) from Jones Beach Island to Southampton.

Around 1683, Fire Island Inlet broke through, separating it from Jones Beach Island.[2]

The Fire Island Inlet grew to nine miles (14 km) in width before receding. The Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1858, right on the inlet, but Fire Island's western terminus at Democrat Point has steadily moved west so that the lighthouse today is six miles (10 km) from the inlet.

Fire Island separated from Southampton in a 1931 Nor'easter when Moriches Inlet broke through. Moriches Inlet and efforts by local communities east of Fire Island to protect their beach front with jetties have led to an interruption in the longshore drift of sand going from east to west and is blamed for erosion of the Fire Island beachfront. Between these major breaks there have been reports over the years of at least six inlets that broke through the island but have since disappeared.


The origin of Fire Island's name is not certain. It is believed its Native American name was Sictem Hackey, which translated to "Land of the Secatogues". The Secatogues were a tribe in the Bay Shore, New York, area. It was part of what was also called the "Seal Islands."[3]

Historian Richard Bayles suggested that the name derives from a misinterpretation or corruption of the Dutch word "vijf" ("five") or in another version "vier" ("four") referring to the number of islands near the Fire Island inlet.[4]

At times histories have referred to it in the plural, as "Fire Islands", because of the inlet breaks.

Other versions say the island derived its name from fires built on the sea's edge by Native Americans or by pirates to lure unsuspecting ships into the sandbars. Some say it is how portions of the island look to be on fire from sea in autumn. Yet another version says it comes from the rash caused by poison ivy on the island.[2]

The name of Fire Island first appeared on a deed in 1789.[5]

While the western portion of the island was referred to as Fire Island for many years, the eastern portion was referred to as Great South Beach until 1920, when widespread development caused the whole land mass to be called Fire Island.[5]


William "Tangier" Smith held title to the entire island in the 17th century, under a royal patent from Thomas Dongan. The remnants of Smith's Manor of St. George are open to the public in Shirley, New York.

Landmarks and preserves

Panorama of Fire Island from the top of Fire Island Lighthouse

Except for the western 4+12 miles (7.2 km) of the island, the island is protected as part of Fire Island National Seashore. Robert Moses State Park, occupying the remaining western portion of the island, is one of the popular recreational destinations in the New York City area. The Fire Island Light stands just east of Robert Moses State Park.


Fire Island is a very seasonal area, Housing is mostly stick-built bungalow-style with generous helpings of bamboo. Some are beachfront, built on the dunes of the Atlantic Ocean, while others are on board or concrete walks, like a miniaturized city. There are few residents in winter months, but the population explodes towards the end of spring. The lifestyle is very casual and friendly, with Ocean Beach as the main destination for tourists and day trippers. Year-round residents can find schools, churches, shops and even a school bus service to Long Island via an off-road modified school bus.

The quiet villages on Fire Island provide solitude, while the larger towns like Ocean Beach and Cherry Grove provide a more social atmosphere with clubs, bars and open air dining. Two of these hamlets, Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove, are popular destinations for LGBT vacationers.

The incorporated villages of Ocean Beach and Saltaire within Fire Island National Seashore are car-free during the summer tourist season (Memorial Day through Labor Day) and permit only pedestrian and bicycle traffic (during certain hours only in Ocean Beach). For off-season use, there are a limited number of driving permits for year-round residents and contractors. The hamlet of Davis Park allows no vehicles or bicycles year-round. Fire Island also contains a number of unincorporated villages (hamlets).

Beach erosion, largely due to construction of jetties at the Moriches Inlet, opened naturally by a storm in 1931 and widened September 21, 1938, is described in a report on the geological effects of the Hurricane of 1938.[12]

Emergency services

Fire Island's unique location and constantly changing geography play a major role in the protection of its citizens. Although it is served by ten fire departments and two police departments,[13] the seasonal residency and remote driving distance are a challenge to the public safety community. Because there are no roads on inhabited Fire Island, fire department vehicles are heavily modified four wheel drive with suspension lift, large diameter off-road tires and recovery equipment, which allow them to traverse the sometimes washed-out, loose sand.

Until 1986, there was no ambulance service on Fire Island,[14] prompting the village of Saltaire to form its rescue company, later followed by Ocean Beach, and then in the 2000s with Fair Harbor.[citation needed] Due to relatively close distance, fire departments on Fire Island are obliged to provide mutual aid both ways.[15] Some coastal fire departments on Long Island have fully equipped marine rescue and fire boat units, and also rely on the Suffolk County Marine Bureau.[citation needed]

Fire Island's corps of off-road-capable fire apparatus and the firefighter's training to use them effectively provide much-needed support in the event of a wildfire,[citation needed] as was illustrated in the Long Island Central Pine Barrens fires of 1995.[citation needed]

The Suffolk County Police Department Marine Bureau is the primary law enforcement agency. Ocean Beach also has a dedicated police department of its own.[citation needed] Criminal proceedings are handled by Suffolk District Court and subjects that are arrested will go to the 3rd, 1st or 5th precinct, or to one of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office run jails.[citation needed] Small claims and property matters are usually handled by the individual village of case origin.[citation needed] It is common practice for police to write tickets then send unruly visitors off the island via water taxi, at the offender's expense.[16]

The Suffolk County Park Police and New York State Park Police patrol the Robert Moses State Park, while the National Park Service is stationed at the Fire Island Light and Fire Island National Seashore.

The United States Coast Guard has a base on Fire Island and provides aerial and nautical patrols to the Fire Island National Seashore as well as all beaches in the area. One of the oldest Coast Guard stations in America, Station #25 has been in uninterrupted operation since 1849.[17]


As of the census[18] of 2000, there were 491 people, 138 households, and 77 families residing on Fire Island. The population density was 52.82/mi2 (21.82/km2). There were 4,153 housing units, at an average density of 478.1/mi2 (184.6/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 96.77% White, 0.65% Asian, 0.32% Pacific Islander, 0.65% from other races, and 1.61% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.90% of the population.

There were 138 households on Fire Island, out of which 25.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.6% were married couples living together, 2.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 44.2% were non-families. 34.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.20 and the average family size was 2.90.

Fire Island's population was spread out with 20.6% under the age of 18, 6.5% from 18 to 24, 29.0% from 25 to 44, 33.5% from 45 to 64, and 10.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 133.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 143.6 males.

The median income for a household on Fire Island was $73,281, and the median income for a family was $83,672. Males had a median income of $46,875 versus $41,429 for females. The per capita income for Fire Island was $43,681. 0.0% of families and 3.1% of individuals were below the poverty line, including 0.0% of those under age 18 and 8.6% of those age 65 or over.

In popular culture

A feature entitled "Shel Silverstein on Fire Island" appeared in the August 1965 Playboy magazine, with humorous quips about the gay club scene there.

Frank Perry's Last Summer (1969), adapted by Eleanor Perry from Evan Hunter's novel about a summer of sexual discovery on Fire Island, brought an Oscar nomination for actress Catherine Burns. The American writer Patricia Nell Warren, known as "the mother of Frontrunners" — the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender running/walking clubs — locates parts of her 1974 best-selling novel The Front Runner,[19] as well as of Harlan's Race,[20] a 1994 sequel, on Fire Island.

Stock film footage of the lighthouse on Fire Island was used as part of two of the opening sequences of the CBS soap opera Guiding Light. The first sequence, showing the lighthouse with a blue sky, was used from January 1970 to spring 1974; the second sequence, showing the lighthouse with an orange sky, was used from spring 1974 to November 1975.

The song "Come to Me" has been described as "the definitive Fire Island dance classic" because of the legendary beach concert performance by the 16-year-old France Joli before an oceanfront Fire Island audience of 5000 on July 7, 1979. When Donna Summer cancelled at the last minute, Joli stepped in as a replacement and became an overnight sensation.[21] The song "Gay Messiah" on the 2004 album Want Two by Rufus Wainwright makes a reference to the popularity of Fire Island for gay and lesbian tourists, remarking that when the "gay messiah" comes, "He will fall from the star / of Studio 54 / and appear on the sand / of Fire Island's shore". The 2003 album Welcome Interstate Managers by Fountains of Wayne featured the song "Fire Island" about two siblings' home-alone shenanigans while their parents vacation on the island.

When Ocean Meets Sky,[22] a 2003 documentary detailing the 50-year history of the Fire Island Pines community, had its television premiere on June 10, 2006. The film includes much previously unseen archival footage. The mockumentary Beach Comber[23] was filmed on Fire Island in 2004. ABC's reality show One Ocean View (2006) was shot on Fire Island. Fire Island is also the setting of Terrence McNally's play Lips Together, Teeth Apart.

The Village People included a song titled "Fire Island" on their 1977 debut album, Village People. In the song, they refer to the island as "a funky weekend" and mention several locations on the island such as the Ice Palace, the Monster, the Blue Whale, and the Sandpiper. The song also includes the warning "Don't go in the bushes" because "someone might grab ya" or "someone might stab ya."

Fire Island is featured prominently in Ann Brashares's 2008 novel The Last Summer (of You and Me), about two sisters and a friend who grow up together, vacationing on the island every summer. Fire Island serves dual meanings as both a vacation destination and a homoerotic euphemism in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. In the story "Blood Work," Sedaris describes an instance in which he is mistaken for an erotic housekeeper and his would-be john makes frequent and emphatic mention of FIRE ISLAND as a secret code. Fire Island is the location of Burt Hirschfeld's best-selling novel Fire Island. It is the story of some show-business and television people who spend their summers with their families on the island.

Fire Island is repeatedly referenced on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace. Many references are made to the adventures had by Will Truman and Jack McFarland during their vacations there; the impression given in the references is that gay people are welcome and there is a loosening of one's inhibitions when there. On the NBC sitcom 30 Rock, the island is referenced by Devon Banks (Will Arnett), a young gay executive who flirts with a gay shop employee and plans to rendezvous with him later on Fire Island. In season four, a charge read at a hearing states "in 2007, a [corporate] officer [Banks] used corporate funds to throw a Cabaret-themed Halloween party on Fire Island."


Following are the locations on the island from west to east.[24]

Town of Babylon

Town of Islip

German full-rigged ship Peter Rickmers aground on Fire Island, April 30, 1908

Town of Brookhaven

The world's first true tanker, the Glückauf, stranded on 23/24-3-1893 in heavy fog at Blue Point Beach on Fire Island.

Other small islands around Fire Island

The following are associated islands in the Fire Island National Seashore Jurisdiction, from west to east:

Other locations

Famous summer residents

After the Manhattan theater community began staying on Fire Island during the 1920s, the island had numerous summer celebrity residents.[25]

See also


  1. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  2. ^ a b Thompson, B. F. (1839). History of Long Island; containing an account of the discovery and settlement; with other important and interesting matters to the present time. New York, E. French.
  3. ^ Edwards, C. (1935). A History of Early Sayville, Sayville, N.Y.: Suffolk County News Press
  4. ^ "history - Retrieved November 2, 2007". 2005-01-23. Retrieved 2010-09-23. 
  5. ^ a b National Park Service history. Retrieved November 2, 2007.
  6. ^ Fire Island: From Pirates to Slavery to Fun in the Sun - Newsday - Retrieved November 3, 2007[dead link]
  7. ^ Stansell, Christine. The New Republic. March 26, 2008. From an article on the life of Margaret Fuller, who died 1850 in a shipwreck at Fire Island: "The Fire Islanders of the day were a nasty group, who lived off pickings from shipwrecks that washed up on the beach, and they had no use for rescue efforts. So although the boat was in clear sight of the shore, no one acted while there was time. The family spent the night with other desperate passengers huddled on the disintegrating ship."
  8. ^,0,5538679.story?coll=ny-lihistory-[dead link]
  9. ^ Cherry Grove Fire Isla by Esther Newton – 1995 - Beacon Press ISBN 0-8070-7927-8
  10. ^ "Fire Island Pines Chamber of Commerce - Retrieved October 31, 2007". Retrieved 2010-09-23. 
  11. ^ "Robert Moses Causeway Historic Overview". Eastern Roads. Retrieved 28 March 2011. "This final link of the Robert Moses Causeway opened in 1964." 
  12. ^ "The Great Hurricane of 1938 - Geological Impact". 1992-12-12. Retrieved 2010-09-23. 
  13. ^ "Suffolk County F.D. & E.M.S. Radio Codes & Information". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  14. ^ "About SVFC - Saltaire Volunteer Fire Company". Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  15. ^ "A Fire in Fire Island Pines Reportedly Destroys Pavilion Complex | Out Magazine". 2011-11-15. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  16. ^ Deirdre M Gurry. "City Chick: Fire Island". Copia Magazine. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  19. ^ ISBN 0-9641099-6-4
  20. ^ ISBN 0-9641099-5-6
  21. ^ Ferguson, Dean. "France Joli: Full Circle," DMA/Dance Music Authority, Volume 4, Number 11, December 1996.
  22. ^ "When Ocean Meets Sky". Retrieved 2010-09-23. 
  23. ^ "Beach Comber". Google. Retrieved 2010-09-23. 
  24. ^ "Official NPS Map - Retrieved November 2, 2007" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-09-23. 
  25. ^ "Nadelson, Reggie. ''Travel + Leisure'', "Hit the Beach in Fire Island," July 2003". Retrieved 2010-09-23. 
  26. ^ "''Playbill''". 2005-11-20. Retrieved 2010-09-23. 

External links