The multi-family home at 46 E. Second Street in Riverhead, the scene of a deadly Nov. 16, 2021 blaze that killed a family of five. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The deadly house fire on East Second Street that killed five people Nov. 16 remains under investigation.

Nearly two months after the fire that scorched the three-story, century-old home in downtown Riverhead, Suffolk County Police are still investigating its cause, a police department spokesperson told RiverheadLOCAL this week.

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said Thursday the detective division has not yet received a report from the Suffolk County Police Arson Squad. A preliminary investigation determined the cause was noncriminal in nature, Suffolk Police said shortly after the fire.

Five family members perished in a third-floor apartment in the multi-family home: Zonia Dinora Rivera, 41, her children, Carlos Cifredo Peñate Rivera, 24 and Andrea Isamar González, 16, and her nephews, Douglas Edgardo Rivera Aguirre, 24, Carlos Alberto Ramos Aguirre, 22.  

Five residents who lived in apartments on the first and second floors of the home, including the building owner, Carmela Cannella, escaped unharmed, police said.

Zonia Rivera with her daughter Andrea and her son Carlos when Andrea arrived in the U.S. Oct. 8, reunited with her mother after 11 years. Courtesy photo: Laura Rivera
Douglas Edgardo Rivera Aguirre and Carlos Alberto Ramos Aguirre, nephews of Laura Rivera, who lived with their aunt in the Second Street home. Courtesy photos.

Laura Rivera, sister and aunt of the victims, said yesterday she has recently been in touch with investigators handling the case and while there is no final report, they told her they believe the blaze was caused by a discarded cigarette.

“What they say is that it was a cigarette — that someone was smoking on the deck of the house where my family lived and when he finished, he threw it away without realizing that it was still lit, and that there was furniture nearby,” Rivera said. “We have been told that so far no criminal hands are believed to be involved in this case,” she said.

Rivera told RiverheadLOCAL in November her nephew, Zonia’s son Carlos, had been celebrating his 24th birthday with friends on the deck of the house hours before the fire. The friends left before 10 p.m., she said. A short time later, a massive fire engulfed the 114-year old home.

“Investigators say the full report will be ready by the end of February,” Rivera said. “But from the beginning they told us that it was going to take a long time. We don’t know the reasons.”

The community rallied to support the surviving family in the weeks following the fire, mourning the deceased and providing financial support for funeral costs and expenses associated with repatriating their remains to their native Jutiapa, Guatemala surviving members of their family. Hundreds attended funeral services for the family.

The charred structure on East Second Street will not be demolished until the investigation is formally closed, according to town officials. The site is secured with fencing and a locked gate, posted with “keep out” and “no trespassing” signs. The town has posted notice next to the entrance of the burnt-out home warning that occupancy is prohibited and declaring the building an unsafe structure under town code.

– with Juliana Holguin and Denise Civiletti

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

Avatar photo
Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: