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5 Family Members Killed When Historic Riverhead House Goes Up In Flames

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Fire consumed a historic house in Suffolk County on Tuesday, killing five people, officials said.

The raging fire startled residents on Second Street in Riverhead at around 10:40 p.m.

The three-family home was filled with 10 residents, but only half made it out alive, officials said.

"I was sleeping with my husband and we heard an explosion," Jesenia Lopez told CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff on Wednesday morning.

Lopez said she had just been texting with her close friend Douglas Rivera, one of the people who didn't make it out.

"He was online, I saw it, but maybe he couldn't talk and they could do nothing because everything was on fire, like in the movies," Lopez said.

She said Douglas Rivera, a construction worker, perished, along with his aunt, Zonia Rivera Mendoza, and her two children, including a 15-year-old who had just moved to the area from Guatemala.

"He was a good guy. He was close with my kids," Lopez said of Douglas Rivera.

"I can't, very sad. Yesterday, she's calling me," said Denia Archetta, a victim's friend.

As fire departments descended on Second Street, neighbors watched helplessly in horror, knowing the house was divided into apartments with multiple residents.

"I was going to bed. I looked at my... I see my blinds glowing red. I see the whole house engulfed. I looked out, the whole thing is on fire. How could people get out of that?" neighbor Steve Tracy said.

Officials said the residents on the third floor could not get out.

Suffolk County police said the cause of the fire is not criminal, adding they are looking at smoking and other possible accidental causes.

When asked why smoke detectors didn't alert anyone, Lt. Kevin Beyrer said, "There is no indication that there were any present, or that any went off."

The house contained four legal apartments, but Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said permits lapsed, possibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and added the owner of the home failed to answer 10 attempts by the town to inspect.

"There have been numerous inspections performed on the house and there was never violation, except for failure in 2020 to renew the permit," Aguiar said.

The owner, who escaped unharmed, would not comment.

The shingle-style house was built in 1907 and was considered the centerpiece of the Riverhead Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The loss of this house is a major tragedy, both for the people whose lives are lost, fellow Riverheaders, but also it's a loss for historic Riverhead. It was probably the most beautiful house on the block, so beautiful they even did a postcard of the house," said Richard Wines of the Riverhead Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The house was due to become a stop on the town's upcoming Historic Trail, but it will now be part of Riverhead's history for a very tragic reason.

Police said they are waiting for identification of the remains to release all of the victims' names.


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