Department forced to relocate after fire

Investigators say a faulty fluorescent light caused a Friday night fire in the Riverhead Town building department offices. Repairs will cost the town $100,000 in an insurance deductible.

The fire started in a about 8:30 p.m. above department head Leroy Barnes’ desk in the Howell Avenue building,, which for years housed the town’s senior center, officials said.

“When we first arrived, there were heavy smoke and flames coming out of the north side of the building,” said George “Gio” Woodson, who stepped down Tuesday as chief of the Riverhead Fire Department. “As usual, [firefighters] did a great job preventing the fire from being worse.”

The Suffolk County Police Arson Squad ruled out arson in a preliminary report issued the next day, according to Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller.

Firefighters contained the blaze to one portion of the building, where Mr. Barnes said about 30 files were lost — out of some 60,000 in the building.

The town is now awaiting a report from its insurance company on the extent of the damage and a timeline for rebuilding the structure, said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

Since the fire, the building department’s 11 employees have been working from the tax receiver’s office in Town Hall. The supervisor expects them to eventually move to the economic development office, which is in the works and expected to open in two or three months. He said it could take up to six months to reopen the building department’s regular office.

Town Hall also sustained basement flood damage during last month’s record rainstorm, but Mr. Walter said town workers are remaining upbeat.

“It’s just a change,” he said of the displaced employees. “Some people don’t like change but I haven’t heard anyone grumbling or anything like that. I think morale is good considering the circumstances.”

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