Family taking it ‘one day at a time’ after fire destroys home


Bri Ristau felt like taking a break.

The 20-year-old videographer, who was working from home Friday afternoon at her family’s Church Lane farmhouse in Aquebogue, said she was “stressed out” after fielding business calls and had decided to scoop herself some ice cream inside a barn on her parents’ property.

But soon after she exited the house, Ms. Ristau said, she heard what she described as a “beeping noise” coming from a fire alarm inside the 1880s home. Then she saw the smoke.

“I came back [outside] and the house was smoking,” she said Saturday morning from the property’s driveway, where the chalky remnants of ash were clearly visible and the smell of smoke still lingered.

After Ms. Ristau called 911, firefighters from at least four departments responded to the scene to help quell the blaze, which began around 3:30 p.m.

RIVERHEAD, NY - August 7, 2015: At approximately 3:20pm, Riverhead Police and Fire Department were called to 470 Church Lane for a fully involved house fire. Everyone made it out of the house without injury.  (Photo by Victor Alcorn)  PHOTO CREDIT GOES TO VICTORALCORN.COM

Ms. Ristau’s parents, Gary and Gina, weren’t home when the fire broke out. Neither was her older sister, Jyl, who lives in Costa Rica but is currently on the North Fork visiting her family.

No one was injured, but two of the family’s three cats perished in the fire, Mr. Ristau said.

“I buried them this morning,” he said.

While Riverhead Town fire marshal Craig Zitek said the official cause of the fire remains under investigation, Mr. Ristau, who said he and his wife had “just gone out” before the fire started, believes it was electrical in nature. He added that he and his family are staying with a neighbor on nearby Promenade Drive for the time being.

“We’re meeting with insurance [agents] today and we’ll go from there,” Mr. Ristau said, adding that he and his family are “fine” and taking things “one day at a time.”

“The police, the neighbors have been great,” he said.

Mark Zaweski, who owns MKZ Farms located three doors down from the Ristaus, said he wasn’t home when the fire broke out but quickly heard about it because he’s a Jamesport Fire Department volunteer firefighter.

Mr. Zaweski, who responded to the call and helped direct traffic while the flames were being extinguished, called the Ristaus “a good family — hardworking.”

“It’s really a tragedy for anybody to lose their house, but when it’s close to home and it’s somebody you know… ” he said Saturday, his voice trailing off.

A woman who lives on nearby Vineyard Way said she was on the phone when she noticed smoke coming from Church Lane on Friday.

“It was very scary to see,” she said, adding that she could still smell smoke from the fire into that evening. “It was a rip-roaring fire — almost like when you have a log crackling in your fireplace.”

On Friday, a GoFundMe page called “Help Briana Ristau & Family” was created by Caitlin Padeletti to help raise money for the family. As of noon on Saturday, $950 had been raised in 17 hours.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Mr. Zaweski said of the effort. “It looks like they lost everything.”

Photos: The Ristau family’s home on Church Lane in Aquebogue on Saturday, one day after a fire broke out inside it. (Credit: Rachel Young); The home was fully engulfed in flames around 3:20 the day before.
(Credit: Victor Alcorn/

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