A Riverhead fire killed five family members Tuesday night when their New York home went up in flames. Douglas Rivera and four of his family members were found dead in their apartment. According to police, the fire started at around 10:40 p.m. and quickly set the historic house ablaze.
Fire officials were able to get to the house one minute after the 911 call, but it wasn’t enough to save the historic 1907 house or the family trapped inside.
Firefighters said the flames spread too quickly and only five people were able to get out alive. The house was a three-family home with 10 residents located on Long Island. Officials say that five were killed and five survived. The Rivera family all shared one apartment and they were all found on the third floor of the 7,000 square foot house.
The house was located on East Second Street near East Avenue in the Long Island town and some community members say the historic house was one of the most beautiful buildings on the block. Many are heartbroken that they lost five members of their community along with an important piece of town history.
According to a neighbor, the family members who were killed included Douglas Rivera along with his aunt, cousin, teenage niece and nephew. This has not been confirmed by Riverhead officials and the public announcement of the victims is waiting on the notification of next of kin. The family had recently moved to New York from Guatemala.
A neighbor, Jesenia Lopez, knew the family very well and was saddened by their deaths. She said that Douglas Rivera was a good man and was close to her own kids.
Riverhead firefighters are unsure how the house caught on fire and at the moment they believe the tragic blaze was an accident. No signs have pointed to any criminal activity. Fire officials will continue to investigate the fire to determine the cause.
There were over 100 firefighters on scene to deal with the flames Tuesday night. According to the fire chief, because of the extent of the blaze they weren’t able to send any firefighters in for rescue because they were worried that more weight would cause the fragile structure to collapse.
“It’s a large house, it’s over 100 years old. Wood frame house. It was a quick–moving fire. You know, it’s just, apartments, it makes it very compartmentalized,” said Detective Lt. Kevin Beyrer. The detective was surprised that five people were able to get out alive with the dangerous conditions of the house.
Officials on the scene included members of the Suffolk County Arson Squad, Suffolk Crime Scene and Homicide Squad, Riverhead detectives and the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office.
City officials say that the house is up to code and had no problems prior to 2020. The house did have a summons for missing its last inspection permit. The owner, Carmela Cannella, who lived on the first floor of the house, was able to survive the flames, but has yet to comment on the condition of her home.
Neighbors are still in shock about the fire. Many of them stood on the street and watched the house burn. Others woke up when the fire broke out. Lopez said she woke up when she and her husband heard an explosion coming from the house.
“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.
An area between Roanoke Avenue and East Avenue has been closed off while Riverhead officials continue their investigation into the heartbreaking fire.