A 30-year-old man was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital for serious injuries sustained in a late-night house fire on Middle Road last night.

A woman and two children escaped without injury from the second-floor apartment in the two-family house at 394 Middle Road, but the occupant of the first-floor apartment was found unconscious by firefighters, who pulled him from the burning dwelling, Riverhead Police said.

One of the children who lives in the upstairs apartment called 911 at 11:24 p.m. to report smoke coming from the first floor of the home, police said.

Police found Shanon Garcia-Donis, 32, with her 7-year-old child and 6-month-old infant standing outside the two-story wood frame house on fire. She told police the first-floor apartment was occupied and the resident may be inside.

Riverhead firefighters found flames burning at the rear of the house, where the fire started in a kitchen stove, First Assistant Chief Kevin Brooks said. A hose team knocked down the fire so that two search teams could enter the house and search for occupants, he said. A fourth team climbed onto the roof to vent the fire, the chief said.

Search team member and ex-captain J.R. Renten,  found the unconscious man on a sofa in the front room on the first floor. He and fellow search team members Kevin Burgess, Steve Beal and Tony Chiaramonte pulled him from the burning home, Brooks said. Police identified the victim as Matej Petrak.

Firefighters found Petrak in less than a minute and got him out of the house, Brooks said.

“They did an amazing job. They really struggled because he was a big man. But they got him out of there very fast,” he said.2015_0130_house_fire

Petrak suffered injuries from smoke inhalation. He was treated at the scene by Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps and transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center, where he was transferred to a Suffolk Police Medevac helicopter to be flown to Stony Brook University.

No further information on his condition was immediately available from the hospital.

The heat of the fire blew out a kitchen window “and that probably helped [the victim], because fire goes to air,” Brooks said. It otherwise might have quickly spread to the front of the house. It gutted the first-floor kitchen before being extinguished by Riverhead firefighters.

Riverhead Police detectives, assisted by the Suffolk County Police arson squad, are investigating. The preliminary investigation determined the fire originated on or in the kitchen stove on the ground floor, according to a Riverhead Police press release.

Garcia-Donis and her children were transported to PBMC for routine medical evaluation, police said.

About 80 Riverhead vols responded to the alarm. A rapid intervention team from Flanders Fire Department also responded at Riverhead’s request. Jamesport Fire Department stood by at Riverhead’s headquarters.

“Everyone worked together like clockwork,” Brooks said. “It was a big team effort. Firefighters did an absolutely great job.”

One nearby fire hydrant was buried in snow and could not be located, Brooks said. “Fortunately we were able to locate another hydrant within a reasonable distance and ran a 5-inch hose to that,” he said. “We urge residents to please find and dig out hydrants near their homes. Being able to locate hydrants in situations like this is crucial to firefighting operations.”

The house at 394 Middle Road is a legal two-family residence, according to town tax records, which indicate that the property is owned by Helen McBurnie, of Middle Road, Riverhead.


  • 2015_0130_fire_middle_road_


  • 2015_0130_fire_middle_road_2


  • 2015_0130_fire_middle_road_3


  • 2015_0130_fire_middle_road_4


We need your help.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.