Vacant house catches fire in Riverhead; squatters likely to blame

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead firefighters trying to find the source of Saturday morning's house fire through the roof of the vacant home.

UPDATE: The Saturday morning blaze in a vacant house on East Avenue and Northville Turnpike could be connected to people who had accessed the boarded-up building, officials said.

“It looked like there were squatters or homeless people in the building,” said Riverhead fire chief Nicholas Luparella. “There was some beer cans in there and stuff like that.”

The Suffolk County Police arson squad is investigating, he said. No injuries were reported.

Firefighters arrived on scene shortly after the 8:40 a.m. call and found smoke rising from the boarded-up house.

“When we first got here we had a heavy smoke condition,” Chief Luparella said. “The building…was well secured but we were able to get in through the crawl space.”

Firefighters at the scene said they had to remove some plywood to access the one-story building. They also used a ladder truck to get at the fire from the roof.

“We were opening up the building to see if it was spreading,” Chief Luparella explained of the activity on the roof.

The chief would not speculate as to the exact cause of the fire, citing the ongoing police investigation.

About 60 firefighters responded to the blaze.

The building later demolished by the town highway department, officials said.

Riverhead Highway Superintendent George Woodson said there’s been about three fires at the house over the past few years. His crews leveled the building Saturday afternoon after requests to do so from a town fire marshal and fire chief, as well as a Suffolk County fire marshal.

“They said it needed to come down because it was unsafe,” Mr. Woodson said, adding that it took about 30 minutes to demolish the house with an excavator.

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With Michael White

An earlier version of this story appeared at 9:15 a.m.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Firefighters accessed the vacant home by removing board's from its window holes.