RIVERHEAD, L.I. — Five people from the same family are dead after flames ripped through their home late Tuesday night, police said Wednesday.
Investigators also said there may have been no working smoke detectors on the floor of the multi-unit historic building where the family lived.
Police and members of multiple fire departments and ambulance companies responded about 10:38 p.m. Tuesday after a fire was reported in the three-story residence near East Avenue, authorities said.
The first fire crew arrived in one minute, according to investigators — but even that was too late.
Laura Zinnati, who lives on the building’s first floor, is a friend of the owner of the building. She managed to escape the fire, along with four other residents on the lower two floors.
“It’s just overwhelming,” Zinnati said.
The building’s owner did not make any comment to reporters.
The tenants were a mother, a daughter, a son, and the mother’s two nephews, according to police.
Their names are being withheld until their next of kin are notified, according to investigators, who also said that they’d looked for smoke detectors in the home where the victims lived.
Lt. Kevin Beyrer, a detective with the Suffolk County Police Department, led the investigation, and commented about warning devices in the home.
“There’s no indication that there were,” he said, at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “I can’t definitively say if there were or there were not smoke detectors.”
He said that the family may have had no warning, despite the fact that the building had been inspected by the town every other year for a decade, according to Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.
“No violation,” she said, “except one failure to renew the [building] permit in 2020.”
She said that in the last year, inspectors had not been able to enter the victims’ apartment.
“It’s possible that COVID had a little bit of something to do with that,” she said. “We were under closedown at that time.”
Richard Wines, the chair of the Riverhead Landmarks Preservation Commission, said the building had been landmarked as part of the town’s successful effort to designate the street a historic district, and place it on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It was probably the most beautiful house on the block,” Wines said. “So beautiful, there was a postcard of the house.”
He also said that the home, built in 1907, had original electrical wiring.
“Nob and tube wiring was commonplace then, so things like this are always dangerous,” Wines said.
Investigators said they were still looking into the cause of the fire. Beyrer said there’s “absolutely no sign this was intentional or criminal in any way.”