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One year later, community remembers Rivera family members who died in Second Street blaze

The date of Nov. 16 will always bring difficult memories for Keith Polchies of Riverhead. 

He lived in the century old home on Riverhead’s Second Street for 16 years before it burned down last year, and he lost everything. 

He was devastated at the fact that his upstairs neighbors, the Riveras, died in the blaze that police determined had been caused by a discarded cigarette earlier this year. When Mr. Polchies heard a vigil was being organized in their memory, he knew he had to be there.

“[Being at the vigil,] it’s twofold, he said. “I feel extremely heartbroken, but extremely lucky.”

Mr. Polchies, along with around 60 other family and community members, braved the cold on Wednesday night for the vigil in memory of Zonia Dinora Rivera Mendoza, Andrea Isamar Gonzalez Rivera, Carlos Cifelo Penate Rivera, Carlos Alberto Ramos Aguirre and Duglas Edgardo Rivera Aguirre.

The vigil was organized by Ms. Rivera Mendoza’s sister, Laura Rivera and others close to the family, who gathered outside where the Victorian era home used to stand. The Riverhead Town Board took action last month to demolish the charred remains of the structure.

During the vigil, those in attendance prayed the rosary, accompanied by worship music, which was led by members of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate from St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead. 

The prayers were held in front of an altar decorated in white and purple tablecloths with religious images, flowers, candles and photos of the Riveras.

Mr. Polchies also contributed a sign to the altar which had been given to him as a gift for his new apartment after the fire which read: “Live by the sun and love by the moon.” Attached to the sign was the mass card that was given at the Riveras funeral ceremony.

After the rosary was finished, family friend Rosendo Herrera read from the Bible, spoke about faith and lead the group in prayer. 

“We’re with the Rivera family and we feel your loss in our souls,” Mr. Herrera said in Spanish. “But let me tell you, you have a family here, a large family, and this family is the family of Christ,” he added.

The two-hour vigil ended at 9 p.m. with warm drinks like coffee being offered to those in attendance, as well as pizza and other food. Ms. Rivera said it was touching to see the support from the community.

“It’s beautiful to see the support of all these people,” Ms. Rivera said in Spanish. “Despite it being a year ago now, people continue to remember them, and no one cared about the cold. All this support is very beautiful.”

The remains of the house where five family members died last November. The Riverhead Town Board took action to demolish the structure last month. (Credit: Grant Parpan)