Damage Control: The State of Fire Island Lighthouse After March Windstorm

Single masterpieces of architecture, art and engineering seem to define so many of the local areas we all hold dear. For Fire Island, undeniably it is our beloved lighthouse.

Tragically, after a windstorm on the evening of March 3, Fire Island Lighthouse suffered some troubling damage.

A 10-foot by 35-foot piece of concrete came dislodged from the tower revealing a portion of the original brick, which appears to be in disrepair. Short-term repair and renovation costs are estimated to exceed $250,000 and the source of the funding as of yet remains undetermined.

THE SHOTCRETE IS SHOT: This photo taken at the base of the Fire Island Lighthouse by Christopher Verga on March 5, 2023 shows damage to the facade, as well as bricks crumbling beneath.

“Fire Island National Seashore was aware of the potential failure and began looking into both short- and long-term solutions,” said Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) Superintendent Alexcy Romero in a telephone interview. “The park has been conducting weekly monitoring; the northeast section of the terrace has been closed off for three months anticipating this failure to occur.”

Romero explained that the tower was encapsulated in 1986 by four concrete panels, called shotcrete, to protect the original brick.

“Some time around 10 years ago, panels were cut into the shotcrete to facilitate the monitoring of expansion, contraction and humidity,” he added.

Then, about a year ago, engineers noted signs of separation and formulated a short-term plan to wrap the outer shell in a gabion harness, which Romero described as “a metal mesh similar to what you see on rock walls adjacent to highways.”

However, the superintendent was unable to explain why the plan had not moved forward sooner.

Now the process is considered an emergency. Funding for repairs will be a collaborative effort between the FINS and the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society. Before any further steps can be taken however, Superintendent Romero has ordered an examination by a structural engineer to ensure the integrity of the building and to determine whether the damage to the underlying bricks was due to the slippage of the panel, general deterioration or both.

Readers expressed concern after Fire Island News first shared photos of the damage that weekend on the our Facebook page.

“This has needed fixing for years now, it’s really saddening that it’s gotten to this point, I find myself wondering what it will take for them to truly address the issues further than just a temporary band-aid,” wrote Brooke Kalman from Islip.

“Let’s save our precious Light House! It’s our Fire Island History!” commented Barbara Duerr.

A magnificent example of both form and function in an idyllic setting, the majestic structure was completed in November of 1858. Although she was constructed to withstand the vengeance of the sea, the years have taken their toll.

Still serving as an unofficial aid to navigation, Fire Island Lighthouse is now national a landmark, serving as the recognizable symbol of our precious barrier island. Although the museum and gift shop remain open to visitors, affected areas remain closed until further notice.