‘The flames were too high;’ Police investigation sheds new light on how tragic house fire unfolded

Jene J. Long

As the very first 911 calls alerted the Riverhead Fireplace Section of smoke in the area of East 2nd Road on the evening of Nov. 16, officer Anthony Chiaramonte of the Riverhead Town Police Department raced to the scene. He arrived at the significant, 3-tale dwelling at 10:38 p.m. and could see the entrance of the house was already entirely engulfed in flames.

Mr. Chiaramonte headed to the rear of the century-old property to help residents evacuating from the 1st flooring condominium. When a newcomer to the police office, acquiring officially joined the ranks in early 2021, Mr. Chiaramonte was also an expert firefighter in Riverhead. In 2015, he was a single of 4 firefighters honored by the News-Evaluate for a late night rescue at a Center Highway home. The heroic actions by people firefighters to save a man’s life was credited at the time as the very first profitable rescue from a burning developing by a Riverhead firefighter in 20 many years.

On this November night time, Mr. Chiaramonte returned to the entrance of the East 2nd Avenue home and attempted to gain accessibility to the 2nd floor. The warmth and flames that engulfed the staircase manufactured it difficult.

He read an explosion. And he could hear various voices screaming and crying from an location of the Victorian design and style home’s turret, which he relayed to the initially firefighters arriving on scene.

Five residents of 1 relatives, all natives of Guatemala, would later be discovered dead jointly on the third floor, marking just one of the deadliest fires in Riverhead Town background. A clearer picture of how the tragic night time unfolded, and the frantic attempts by inhabitants and 1st responders to extinguish the fire and achieve those people trapped on the higher flooring, can now be noticed as a result of reviews by the Suffolk County Law enforcement Office, which experienced both of those homicide and arson investigators at the scene, and the Riverhead City Law enforcement Department. A 36-web site report received by means of a Liberty of Information Act ask for aspects how the fireplace promptly consumed the entrance portion of the home when a pretzel container used to dispose cigarette ash ignited previously disposed of using tobacco materials. That ignited a close by wicker sofa on the porch and then wooden shingles and the composition by itself, the report claims.

Suffolk police experienced originally suspected smoking to be a probable result in of the fireplace and verified to the News-Review past thirty day period that conclusion following the investigation. The report introduced very last 7 days outlines far more specifics of the accidental hearth and how investigators attained their summary.

A memorial set up outside the house the household Nov. 18 wherever 5 individuals died. (Credit history: Melissa Azofeifa)

‘It’s a terrible tragedy’

On the afternoon after the lethal fire, Det. Lt. Kevin Beyrer, the head of Suffolk’s homicide division, stated the hearth appeared to be accidental and investigators were being exploring cigarette smoking as a likely lead to among the other factors getting investigated. He referred to the incident as a “terrible tragedy.”

The residence highlighted one particular condominium on the initially floor where by the property owner lived, two apartments on the second floor and one particular apartment on the third flooring. Keith Polchies, who lived in a 2nd flooring rear condominium with his girlfriend, Cindy Wilson, was a single of the first people to notice the hearth. He experienced arrived house from work that night, ate dinner in his apartment and sat down to enjoy a movie. When the motion picture finished, he walked his pet dog, heading west towards the nearby Montauk Distilling Co. As he returned, he seen a resident of the 3rd flooring sitting down at a desk on the east facet of the entrance porch. The person, whom he did not know personally, was finishing a cigarette and put it out in an ashtray on the desk. He then dumped the ashtray into the massive plastic pretzel bucket that was saved on the porch deck, in accordance to the report.

About 25 minutes afterwards, he listened to a bang at the entrance doorway and ran downstairs. He could see a hearth in the vicinity of the wicker couch on the southeast corner of the porch. He ran again inside to seize a hearth extinguisher. The fire was previously as well big.

“I then ran back again within the residence and started out screaming for anyone to get out,” Mr. Polchies reported in a published statement. He went back inside and could see his girlfriend, the landlord, Carmella Cannella, and residents of the other next-flooring condominium.

“By that time the flames ended up too superior and we couldn’t go back again out the entrance doorway,” he wrote. “We all then went to the back again of the home and we escaped jointly by way of the rear door.”
Law enforcement had just arrived on scene.

“From the time I went back inside the home and saw the fireplace, I never observed any of the people of the 3rd flooring,” Mr. Polchies reported.

Loraine Starsiak, who lived in a next-flooring apartment with her adult son Adam, was in her bedroom when she heard her son yell “FIRE!” and to evacuate. As she ran downstairs, she could see the wicker sofa engulfed in flames and the fire was progressing upward towards the porch roof. She also attempted to use a fireplace extinguisher “without results.”

She told investigators that their apartment highlighted 3 working battery-driven smoke detectors. And when the smoke detector had not sounded, the smoke experienced also not nonetheless attained their apartment. She told investigators that she experienced visited the third flooring and noticed smoke detectors there as well. Ms. Cannella, the landlord, also told police that there hardwired smoke detectors in the third-flooring condominium.

Adam Starsiak told investigators he very first discovered the smell of a thing burning but could not track down the source. He later read banging outside the house the front door and as he begun downstairs he could see a glow out the stained glass window. He then observed the wicker couch on fireplace. He explained to investigators he regarded seeking to go the sofa off the porch, but the fire was now too massive. At that same time, Mr. Polchies arrived with the fire extinguisher.

It was a neighbor, William Dawson, who banged on the entrance doorway of the house. He had gotten home from work earlier in the night and was in his bedroom when he heard a popping audio coming from outside the house the window. He discovered the hearth upcoming door and ran down to alert his neighbors and referred to as 911. The fireplace was already starting to expand upward and catching columns, he mentioned.

Between the to start with on scene that night time was Riverhead fireplace marshal John Dahlem, who arrived in advance of the to start with firefighters. The fire was beneath the entrance porch overhang and Mr. Dahlem attempted to enter via the rear to research for occupants with out achievement, the report suggests.

Firefighters at the scene on the night time of the lethal hearth. (Credit rating: Stringer News)

Investigation starts

To begin the procedure of deciding the lead to of fire, investigators conduced a Bilancia Ignition Matrix, an analysis of all the probable fuel and ignition sources. All potential fuel sources other than for the wicker sofa and pretzel bucket that contained the cigarette butts were dominated out. The only ignition source that could not be dominated out was a cigarette that was not adequately disposed of.

Investigators tried to determine whether or not a cigarette butt dropped or placed on the couch alone could have started out the hearth. The timing, nonetheless, didn’t align for that to be the probably result in. Investigators met with special brokers of the Bureau of Liquor, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to recognize if cigarettes that had been not correctly disposed of in a plastic container could be a “competent ignition source as well as a to start with fuel ignited.”

An experiment confirmed cigarettes reached flaming combustion in somewhere around 7 minutes with no other gas than the cigarettes butts by themselves and a light-weight wind, the report says.

Investigators also observed a scientific paper published in the “National Analysis Council of Canada” that observed wicker chairs were capable of igniting immediately and could easily unfold to adjacent combustibles.

Investigators identified that the fire progressed by way of a window or door opening in the common area of the first flooring and up the widespread stairwell to partly collapse the next and third floor.

The five users of the relatives on the 3rd flooring were all observed “in an region in which they appeared to have sought refuge from the hearth,” the report suggests.

There were being two interior staircases that accessed the next floor. Even though the primary staircase in the entrance common spot appeared to have partially collapsed, a next staircase accessed by a rear closet in close proximity to the kitchen area remained primarily intact. At the landing spot, a “significant collapse” was witnessed where by the 3rd flooring had collapsed into the second ground. Investigators employed drone equipment to study the 3rd ground and most of the fire problems appeared to be in the location encompassing the primary staircase, the report states. The third floor area of the turret remained structurally intact and was where the five victims have been observed. No fire escapes had been located on the exterior of the framework.

5 caskets were lined up up coming to each and every other inside St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead. (Credit rating: Melissa Azofeifa)

5 victims

The five victims had been Zonia Dinora Rivera Mendoza, 42, Andrea Isamar Gonzalez Rivera, 16, Carlos Cífelo Penate Rivera, who died a person day soon after his 25th birthday Carlos Alberto Ramos Aguirre, 25, and Duglas Edgardo Rivera Aguirre, 27.

Andrea and Carlos Cífelo have been children of Ms. Rivera Mendoza. The other two victims were cousins of the small children.

A funeral support was held in late December, additional than a month soon after the hearth, at St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead. Their bodies were being transported back again to Guatemala where one more funeral assistance was held.

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