Fire Chief, Selectboard Chair reflect on fatal Warwick fire a year later

  • The casket of one of the Seago family members who died in the house fire on Richmond Road in Warwick March 4, 2017, is blessed following the funeral service at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church in Turners Falls, March 11, 2017. Recorder file photo/Matt Burkhartt

  • Charred debris is all that remains of a house where a mother and four children lost their lives in an early morning house fire at 405 Richmond Road in Warwick on March 4, 2017. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Friday, March 02, 2018

WARWICK — One year ago, a house fire at 405 Richmond Road claimed the lives of five members of the Seago family.

Lucinda Seago, 42, and four of her five children, Nicholas, 15, Martin, 12, Demetria, 9, and Peter, 7, died in the fire, which started with their wood stove.

Scott, Lucinda’s husband, and their daughter Vivian escaped.

The tragedy devastated Warwick, a tight-knit community of around 800 people.

Reflecting on the past year, Fire Chief Ron Gates and then-Selectboard Chairwoman Dawn Magi said the fire has changed things for the town.

“It had two effects on the town,” Magi said. “It horrified us, but it also brought the community together in a way I haven’t seen in a long time.”

According to Magi, around 300 people attended the Seagos’ funeral to remember Lucinda, who had a background in nursing and served on the town’s Board of Health, and her children, whom Warwick residents remember as very intelligent.

In the immediate aftermath of the March 4 fire, Our Lady of Czestochowa Church in Turners Falls set up an online fundraiser for the surviving members of the family.

After 12 months, the site is still up and has raised $87,988 of its $100,000 goal.

Magi, who is still on the Selectboard though no longer chairwoman, said she visited the scene of the fire with the police after getting a call in the early hours of the morning that day.

The community has become unified in remembering the Seagos, raising money and organizing memorial events, but the horror of the tragedy has also been in people’s thoughts, Magi said.

“It was surreal. I couldn’t believe it,” Magi recalled emotionally. “I just hope I never see anything like that again.”

Magi spoke with one of the first responders at the scene and remembers how devastated he was. The Fire Department, she said, was just as shaken as everyone else in the small community.

“I did have thoughts of leaving (the Fire Department),” said Gates, who has been a Warwick firefighter for 16 years, chief for seven of them. “More so, right after.”

Gates had never seen a fire with such a horrific outcome.

He had seen fires resulting in a fatality, and members of his department had worked at a fire that claimed the lives of two young girls in Orange in 2016.

But the Richmond Road fire, which was deemed caused by accident by State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey, has caused Gates and his department to be far more vigilant when it comes to fire safety education.

“It changed the department only for the better,” Gates said. “We are a lot more involved in trying to get information out.”

The smoke detector in the Seagos’ home, Gates said, was not on at the time of the fire and was probably disconnected.

Since the fire, Gates and his fellow firefighters have made it a priority to advertise that free smoke detectors are available with the Fire Department.

The department has installed and tested smoke detectors, and has held meetings with local parents to teach them about the best practices to prevent a fire.

“Practice setting off the alarms, especially with kids so they know what it sounds like,” Gates said.

This year, the Fire Department received two Student Awareness of Fire Education grants to teach students and seniors about fire safety, and part of that $3,840 will go toward buying more smoke detectors for residents.

“Our town is no different than any other town. You kind of get numb to whether you could have a fire,” Gates said.

The 14 firefighters of the Fire Department have helped each other stay motivated teaching residents about having multiple exits from the house in case of a fire, and have gone to the Warwick Community School to educate teachers and students.

“It was really hard in the beginning, but I have a great group of men and women, and we depend on each other,” Gates said.

One firefighter, Bill Lyman, who Gates described as “probably my most dependable guy,” left the Fire Department after the fire and still has not returned.

“This was just overwhelming,” Gates said.

According to Town Coordinator David Young, a community remembrance event will happen this Sunday, the anniversary of the fire, at noon at the Warwick Community School.

To donate to the Victims of Warwick Fire fund, visit http://bit.ly/2GYNlHn

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.