A fire on New Year’s Day that sent a man to the hospital with second-degree burns on his face was caused after someone in the house took ashes from the home’s wood stove and placed them under the back deck, eventually sparking a flame which gutted the Riverside Drive home.
According to chief fire marshal Craig Zitek, ashes placed outside insulated some embers that must have been in the pile.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people do that type of thing,” he said. “They don’t realize the coals that are left over from the burning woods. And ash is a very good insulator, so when it sits at the bottom of the fireplace or wood stove, those coals can stay hot for two or three days. Maybe longer. And if they come into contact with anything combustible, they will ignite it.”
About 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Riverhead police and fire departments — as well as emergency responders from Flanders, Jamesport, Eastport and Wading River Fire Departments — responded to the scene of the fire, knocking it down in about an hour. Close to 80 firefighters in total responded.
At the time of the fire, three individuals were inside the home, which belongs to artist Rani Carson, whom a neighbor described as retired. Ms. Carson had taught art classes at Suffolk County Community College.
Mr. Zitek suggested that individuals who are removing ash should place it in a metal garbage can, at least 10 feet away from a home.
“This way, if something does ignite, the only thing that’s going to burn is the garbage can,” he said. “We investigate a fair number of these each year.”
Mr. Zitek also suggested dousing the ashes with water outside.
As far as damage to the home itself, he said “unfortunately there’s a lot of damage.” Despite the fact that the fire occurred outside, firefighters had to rip open walls to check the status of wood beams, which — due to construction methods at the time — run all the way from the basement to the attic.
Michael White contributed to this article.