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Fire Island, New York
—  CDP  —
Fire Island
Coordinates: 40°39′11″N 73°7′33″W / 40.65306°N 73.12583°W / 40.65306; -73.12583Coordinates: 40°39′11″N 73°7′33″W / 40.65306°N 73.12583°W / 40.65306; -73.12583
Country United States
State New York
County Suffolk
 - Total 8.742 sq mi (22.64 km2)
 - Land 8.687 sq mi (22.5 km2)
 - Water 0.05464 sq mi (0.1415 km2)
Elevation 3 ft (1 m)
Population (2000)
 - Total 491
 - Density 56.52/sq mi (21.82/km2)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code 11770, 11706
Area code(s) 631
FIPS code 36-25839
GNIS feature ID 1852899

Fire Island is both the name of an island and the name of a census-designated place (CDP).

The island is one of Long Island's south shore outer barrier islands, approximately 31 miles (50 km) long and varying between approximately 0.1 mile (160 m) to 0.25 mile (400 m) wide. Fire Island passes through southern Suffolk County, New York, and is southeast of Long Island separated from the main land by the Great South Bay in the U.S. state of New York, running approximately SW to NE.

The CDP does not cover the entire area of the landmass, nor is it limited to the single island. The CDP includes all of the island except for the villages of Saltaire and Ocean Beach, and includes the Brookhaven portion of the island that lies to the east.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

The land area is 8.687 sq. mi. (22.5 km2), and a permanent population of 491 people was reported as of the 2000 census. (There are hundreds of thousands of summertime residents, groupers and daytrippers.) The stated land area and population figures result when this section is subtracted out.[7]



Fire Island is about 5½ miles (8.9 km) south of the main land of Long Island (although within a mile in its eastern portion). It is separated from the main land by a series of interconnected bays: Great South Bay, Patchogue Bay, Bellport Bay, Narrow Bay, and Moriches Bay. The island has very limited access by automobile for day use, from Long Island by the Robert Moses Causeway on its western end to Robert Moses State Park and by William Floyd Parkway (Suffolk County Road 46) to Smith Point County Park near its eastern end. Motor vehicles are not permitted on the approximately 20 miles in between (except for utility, construction and emergency access and with limited beach driving permits in winter). Essentially the island and its resort towns are accessible only by the numerous ferries.

Fire Island is located at 40° 39' 35" North, 73° 5' 23" West (40.653188, -73.125795).[8] According to the United States Census Bureau, Fire Island has a total area of 8.742 mi2 (22.64 km2), 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, including the cost of environmental monitoring, and was expected to add 1.8 million 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.

Physical 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.[9]

The Fire Island Inlet was to grow 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.

Origin of name

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."[10]

Historian Richard Bayles suggested that the name Fire 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.[11]

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 the Autumn. Yet another version says it comes from the rash caused by poison ivy on the island.[9]

The name of Fire Island first appeared on a deed in 1789.[12]

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 of the island caused the whole island to be referred to as Fire Island.[12]


William "Tangier" Smith held title to the entire island in the 1600s, 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.

  • The first large house was built in 1795 in Cherry Grove by Jeremiah Smith. Smith was said to have lured ships to their doom and killed the crews.[13][14]
  • In the early 1800s, when slavery was still legal in New York, slave runners built stockades on the island by the Fire Island Inlet.
  • The first Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1825 and was replaced by the current lighthouse in 1858.
  • In 1855, David S.S. Sammis bought 120 acres (0.49 km2) near the Fire Island Lighthouse and built the Surf Hotel at what today is Kismet. Sammis operated the hotel until 1892, when the state took it over. In 1908, it became the first state park on Long Island.
  • In 1868, Archer and Elizabeth Perkinson bought the land around Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines. They built a hotel in 1880.
  • In 1887, the Coast Guard established 11 manned lifesaving stations on the island.
  • In 1892, troops were called out to suppress a potential riot at Democrat Point over a cholera panic.[15]
  • In 1908, Ocean Beach was established, followed by Saltaire in 1910.
  • In 1921, the Perkinsons sold the land around Cherry Grove in small lots. Bungalows from the newly closed Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York were ferried over the Great South Bay to build the new community. Duffy's Hotel was built in 1930.
  • The Great Hurricane of 1938 devastated much of the island and made it appear undesirable to many. However, Duffy's Hotel remained relatively undamaged. According to legend, the gay population began to concentrate in Cherry Grove at Duffy's Hotel with Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden dressed as Dionysus and Ganymede and carried aloft on a gilded litter by a group of singing followers.[16] The gay influence was continued in the 1960s when male model John B. Whyte developed Fire Island Pines. The Pines currently has some of the most expensive property on the island and accounts for two-thirds of the island's swimming pools.[17]
  • In 1954, Robert Moses built the Captree Causeway to the western end of the island. Opponents, fearing that this was the beginning of plans for the continuation of Ocean Parkway, which would have run down the middle of the island, organized and eventually stopped the Parkway.
  • In September 1964, Lyndon Johnson signed the bill creating Fire Island National Seashore.

Landmarks and preserves

Panorama of Fire Island from the top of Fire Island Lighthouse

Except for the western 4½ miles (7.5 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.


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). Two of these hamlets, known as the Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove, have a reputation as being popular destinations for LGBT vacationers.

Beach erosion, largely due to construction of jetties at the Moriches Inlet, opened naturally by a storm in 1931 and widened by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1938, is described in a report on the geological effects of the Hurricane of 1938.[18]

The avant-garde American poet Frank O'Hara was struck and injured by a beach buggy on the early morning of July 24, 1966, and died the following day.


As of the census[19] of 2000, there were 491 people, 138 households, and 77 families residing on Fire Island (which includes many other communities besides Cherry Grove). 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

Barbara Hershey, Bruce Davison and Richard Thomas in Frank Perry's Last Summer (1969), shot on location at Fire Island.

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 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 was a last-minute cancellation, Joli stepped in as a replacement and became an overnight sensation, with her "Come to Me" single climbing into Billboard's Top 20 during the following months.[20] When Ocean Meets Sky,[21] 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, but unfortunately the famed 1979 performance of vocalist France Joli is presented only in still photographs with music background, suggesting no footage of that well-remembered event exists. The film does include interviews with several who still regard Joli's performance in awe.

Garbo Talks (1984) has scenes of the Fire Island ferry. Longtime Companion (1990) is a drama that recreates chronologically the spread of AIDS during the 1980s. Returning Mickey Stern (2003) was shot almost entirely in Seaview and Ocean Beach; the entire cast and crew were housed on Fire Island.

The Post Office scene in Men in Black II was shot outside the Fire Island Lighthouse. The mockumentary Beach Comber[22] 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 1977 Judas Priest song "Raw Deal" has the line, "A couple cards played rough stuff, New York, Fire Island". Tanya Donelly's 1997 song "Pretty Deep" has the line, "Remember when we all went out to Fire Island / You thought you saw a body on the beach / When we got closer it was just a tire". 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.

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."

In the 2008 movie, The Wackness, the Squires family have a beach house on Fire Island that is used in at least two scenes.

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 is repeatedly referenced on the NBC sitcom Will and Grace. Many references are made to the adventures had by Will Truman and Jack McFarland during their vacations on Fire Island. The impression given in the references is that gay people are welcome and there is a loosening of one's inhibitions when there.

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," David 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. Ignoring the awkward advances and a travel brochure featuring scantily clad men, David's only response is to ask "do you bring your Mother to Fire Island?"

Fire Island is the location of Burt Hirschfeld's 1970s best-selling novel entitled "Fire Island". It is the story of some show-business and television people who spend their summers among with their families in the island.

Fire Island, part of the outer barrier.


Following are the locations on the island from west to east.[23]

Town of Babylon

Town of Islip

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:

  • Sexton Island – A small island across from the Fire Island Lighthouse with approximately 20 small, private, summer houses. There is no ferry service nor electrical service.
  • West Fire Island – A small island with about a dozen houses. It has no telephone or electrical service.
  • East Fire Island – Another longer and larger island next to West Fire Island, this island, unlike West Fire Island, is uninhabited. People are allowed, although there is no ferry service, so the only way to get there is on your own boat.
  • Ridge Island
  • Pelican Island
  • John Boyle Island
  • Hospital Island

Other locations

  • Clam Pond – A small cove between Saltaire and Fair Harbor

Famous summer residents

After the Manhattan theater community began staying on Fire Island during the 1920s, the island had numerous summer celebrity residents.[24]

  • Gary Beach, Tony award winning actor[25]
  • Tina Fey, actress on 30 Rock stays during the summer at Fair Harbor

See also


  1. ^ "Reference Maps (1)". American FactFinder. Retrieved 2009-04-09.  
  2. ^ "Reference Maps (2)". American FactFinder. Retrieved 2009-04-09.  
  3. ^ "Reference Maps (3)". American FactFinder. Retrieved 2009-04-09.  
  4. ^ "Reference Maps (4)". American FactFinder. Retrieved 2009-04-09.  
  5. ^ "Reference Maps (5)". American FactFinder. Retrieved 2009-04-09.  
  6. ^ "Reference Maps (6)". American FactFinder. Retrieved 2009-04-09.  
  7. ^
  8. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2000 and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2005-05-03. Retrieved 2008-01-31.  
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Edwards, C. (1935). A History of Early Sayville Sayville, N.Y.: Suffolk County News Press
  11. ^ history - Retrieved November 2, 2007
  12. ^ a b National Park Service history. Retrieved November 2, 2007.
  13. ^ Fire Island: From Pirates to Slavery to Fun in the Sun - Newsday - Retrieved November 3, 2007
  14. ^ 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."
  15. ^,0,5538679.story?coll=ny-lihistory-
  16. ^ Cherry Grove Fire Isla by Esther Newton – 1995 - Beacon Press ISBN 0807079278
  17. ^ Fire Island Pines Chamber of Commerce - Retrieved October 31, 2007
  18. ^
  19. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.  
  20. ^ Ferguson, Dean. "France Joli: Full Circle," DMA/Dance Music Authority, Volume 4, Number 11, December 1996.
  21. ^ When Ocean Meets Sky
  22. ^ Beach Comber
  23. ^ Official NPS Map - Retrieved November 2, 2007
  24. ^ Nadelson, Reggie. Travel + Leisure, "Hit the Beach in Fire Island," July 2003.
  25. ^ Playbill

External links

Simple English

Fire Island, New York
—  CDP  —
Fire Island
Coordinates: 40°39′11″N 73°7′33″W / 40.65306°N 73.12583°W / 40.65306; -73.12583
Country United States
State New York
County Suffolk
 - Total 8.7 sq mi (22.4 km2)
 - Land 8.7 sq mi (22.4 km2)
 - Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 3 ft (1 m)
Population (2000)
 - Total 310
 Density 35.8/sq mi (13.8/km2)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code 11770
Area code(s) 631
FIPS code 36-25839
GNIS feature ID 1852899

Fire Island is a barrier island, approximately 31 miles (49.5 km) long and varying between approximately 0.1 mile (0.16 km) to 0.5 mile (0.8 km) wide, in Suffolk County on the southern side of Long Island in the U.S. state of New York, running approximately WSW to ENE. The land area is 48 km² (18.7 sq mi) and a permanent population of 310 persons was reported as of the 2000 census. (There are many thousands of seasonal residents.)

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