Building department ablaze, again

Fire and flood continued to plague Riverhead Town facilities last week when a blaze broke out in the already fire-damaged building department office and flooding continued to cause problems at several town sites.

Town building department coordinator Leroy Barnes said he and Dave Cullen from the supervisor’s office were in the building department at about 10 a.m. Wednesday, assessing the damage from a fire that had ripped through the building on Friday night, April 16, when they noticed that the fire had rekindled itself in a file cabinet.

They quickly called the Riverhead Fire Department, which extinguished it.

As a result of continuing flooding problems, the town last week had to close the Jamesport Community Center last week. Town Hall and the police, highway and building departments also were affected, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

Of the approximately 60,000 building department files in the office, Mr. Barnes said about 30 were damaged in the original fire, but since Wednesday’s fire, that estimate has risen to about 100 files.

The initial blaze started in Mr. Barnes’ office, but he said he had most of his computer files on an external hard drive, and those files were not lost.

“If you saw my office, it’s totally decimated,” Mr. Barnes said. “My desk is completely burned.”

All of the furniture and file cabinets in the building are smoke damaged “and we’ve been advised that everything has to be discharged,” he said.

The original fire started in a ballast system that connects all the fluorescent lights in the building, he said. Arson has been ruled out.

The building department is currently working from the tax receiver’s office in Town Hall, and will eventually move into an office at 655 E. Main St., across the street from Town Hall, Mr. Barnes said.

Because of the disruption, he is urging the Town Board to pause the time clock on applications, some of which must legally be processed within a certain time.

Mr. Barnes said he’s been asking for years that his files be scanned and kept on computer, as is done in Southampton and Southold towns, but that his requests had been rejected for budgetary reasons.

Mr. Walter complimented the Riverhead Fire Department for its quick response.

“It looks like, if they came five minutes later, it would have been burned to the ground,” he said of the initial fire.

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