A fast-moving fire swept through a building in downtown Mattituck, killing a 51-year-old tenant and destroying four adjoining businesses late Friday and early Saturday, Southold Town Police said.
The fire began shortly after 10:30 p.m. Friday at 12800 Main Rd. in a single-story building that contained two apartments and four businesses.
Police identified the victim as Paul Mittleman, who the property owner said moved into a small apartment in the back of the building 18 months ago.
Firefighters extinguished the blaze at 1:52 a.m. Saturday, authorities said.
"It was just stubborn," said Mattituck Fire Chief Vincent Tirelli Jr. "This is the kind of fire no chief wants to have."
A Jamesport firefighter suffered a foot injury, Tirelli said.
Southold Town police said they are investigating the cause of the fire.
Most of the building's roof collapsed, and blackened shingles and beams littered the interior of the building and an adjacent parking lot Saturday. The fire appears to have originated in Mittleman's apartment, police said.
Steven Busch, who identified himself as the building owner, said an alarm alerted him to the fire at 10:42 p.m. and he rushed to the scene, where he saw smoke billowing from a window in Mittleman's apartment.
Busch said he and a police officer tried to enter the apartment, but they were "overcome by smoke" and unable to knock down the door.
Busch said he ran outside for air, then re-entered the building through Liberty Data Systems -- a business he owns on the property -- and retrieved keys to the apartment.
Once inside, the officer found Mittleman dead near the front door, Busch said.
Two other residents who live in a second apartment were not home at the time, Busch said.
The other businesses in the building were AM Computer Consulting, Marshall Paetzel Landscape Architecture and Zepeda Barber Shop, Busch said.
Mittleman was a painter and carpenter who loved to fish, said the Rev. Tom Murray of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Greenport.
Mittleman was divorced and had two children, Murray said. He worked for several years as a rectory cook and handyman at St. Agnes, and two of his paintings hang in the church, the pastor said.
"Anything that needed to be done, he knew how to do it," Murray said. "He was a talented man who had many, many gifts."
Mittleman suffered from circulation problems in his legs and used a cane and walker in recent years, Murray said.
Tom McCarthy, a real estate broker who owns a neighboring building that houses a bicycle shop, said Mittleman fixed up a narrow space between the buildings with gardens, a bench and a barbecue pit.
"This was his little world," McCarthy said. "It was his yard and his living room at the same time."
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