RIVERHEAD, NY — A fire tore through a historic Riverhead home Tuesday night, leaving five dead — and another five residents homeless.
A mother and her son, Lori and Adam Starsiak, were able to escape, said brother Michael Starsiak of Calverton.
Starsiak created a GoFundMe, Help My Family Get Back Up On Their Feet, to lend support to his mother and brother.
“My mom and brother, Lori and Adam Starsiak, lost everything last night when a fire raced through the apartment building were they lived on Second Street in Riverhead,” he wrote. “We are sorry to say the fire claimed the lives of five people, and we thank God my mom and brother were spared, escaping with just the clothes they were wearing.”
Donations are needed, he said, to help them to begin again.
New details emerged Wednesday about the fire that ripped through the storied Long Island home.
According to police, the five people who died were all found on the third floor of a home on East Second Street in Riverhead and are believed to have been third-floor residents; they are all members of the same family and included a woman, her son, her daughter, and two nephews of the woman.
One of the five was a teenager and a female, according to Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.
Those who died were not in their beds, “but we cannot speculate what they were doing at the time of the fire,” police said.
According to Suffolk County Police, responding officers were there within a minute of the 10:38 p.m. 911 call. The homeowner lived on the first floor, and escaped; the second floor had two apartments each with two occupants, and the third floor had one apartment with five occupants.
Suffolk police detectives spoke with Riverhead town code enforcement who indicated they believe the apartments were legal but said they would investigate, police said.
A second-floor resident went out to walk his dog and then returned and was getting ready for bed when he smelled smoke and heard his across-the-hall neighbors yelling, “Fire!” police said.
Police said smoking was a potential cause of fire, “but there are multiple factors that are being investigated, all accidental in nature.”
When asked about smoke detectors, Suffolk County Police Detective Lieutenant Kevin Beyrer said they couldn’t definitively say if there were any but at this point, “there is no indication there were any present or going off.”
Police said they do not know when the bodies will be identified.
Neighbors were grief-stricken and shocked Wednesday as they gathered across the street from the blackened structure, the smell of smoke still heavy in the air.
Steven Tracy, who lives directly across the street from the fire, was visibly distraught.
“It was horrible. I saw my windows glowing and I looked across the street and the whole house was on fire. Every floor was on fire,” he said.
Tracy said he knew some residents on the second floor, who escaped. “But everyone on the third floor — they didn’t get out,” he said.
Tracy said he does not think he will be able to sleep for some time. “I can still hear the sound of them screaming. And then seeing the bodies being lowered out of the window — not good.”
Aguiar told Patch that the home was a legal, owner-occupied, four-family residence. In recent months, code enforcement had visited the home eight times and called twice, trying to get the town’s rental agreement renewed; once that rental agreement was renewed, there would have been a new inspection required, she said.
The owner was then cited in October with failure to renew the rental agreement, she said — adding that the agreement expired in 2020, during the pandemic.
Tracy said the homeowner cared for the property, unlike some other houses in the area that have stood abandoned for years.
The owner of the building could not immediately be reached for comment.
Aguiar said the family was from Guatemala and the Guatemalan consulate was on-hand all day Wednesday to help.
“Today Riverhead lost five community members,” Aguiar said. “Our hearts go out to their family and friends.”
She added that she is committed to helping the survivors in any way possible.
Riverhead residents Arlene and Brad Tuthill were also shaken as they stood before the charred building.
“My heart just goes out to those people,” Arlene said. “I hope they didn’t suffer too long.”
She added, “This is something none of us will ever forget.”
A preliminary investigation has determined the cause of the fire to be non-criminal in nature, police said.
The home had great historical significance in Riverhead. According to Riverhead Town records, the three-story, cross-gable Victorian style home was built circa 1905 and featured turrets and Tuscan columns. Known as the Price Northridge House, the home was originally designed by William Sidney Jones for Augusta Price, a Brooklyn attorney.
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