WARWICK — A mother and four children died in a severe fire early Saturday morning that destroyed their single-family home at 405 Richmond Road.
Authorities said Saturday afternoon that the father and one child of the household escaped, but declined to name any of the family members yet.
At around 12:45 a.m., emergency responders were called to the scene of the three-alarm fire. The first responders arrived within minutes. According to Town Coordinator David Young, at least 16 departments provided assistance throughout the night.
During a press conference at Warwick Town Hall Saturday afternoon, Fire Chief Ron Gates said that initial reports led responders to believe all occupants were out of the house. Massachusetts State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey added that early reports had the fire as having started in the kitchen’s wood stove, though the origin of the fire hasn’t been confirmed.
“This is a fire that started from an accidental cause,” Ostroskey said.
Gates said that when responders arrived, the house was fully engulfed in flames and two occupants were running down the driveway. The home’s windows were already blown out, and the roof was caving in.
“At that point, we heard there were more occupants in the house,” Gates continued.
While the two occupants who escaped – a father and one child – were transported to the hospital in Keene, N.H. with minor injuries, firefighters tried to control the blaze. They drafted water from Richmond Reservoir, a pond about one-third of a mile away, according to Police Chief David Shoemaker. Warwick has only one fire hydrant, so firefighting proved difficult.
“Firefighting water was one of the first challenges the firefighters faced, as well as bitter conditions,” Ostroskey said. Gates added that at one point, the firefighters were working in -5 degree weather.
Gates said firefighters “didn’t have a chance to knock it down.”
Ostroskey said five individuals weren’t able to get out of the house. Their bodies were located, and were transported by the Chief Medical Examiner.
“There was nothing we could have done different, unfortunately,” said Gates, who grew visibly choked up during the press conference. Other Warwick residents in attendance also grew teary-eyed as the story was told.
Though identities have not been released yet, the news of the fire has shocked Warwick residents.
“It’s horrific,” Warwick resident John Bradford said. “It’s not something that’s easy to wrap your head around.”
“Our community has suffered a great loss of life, a blow to our spirit that we’re only beginning to recognize,” Young said during the press conference. “It’s a devastating loss. We’ll miss them, and we’ll support the survivors.”
Some of the children were Warwick Community School students, one attended Pioneer Valley Regional School, and at least one was home schooled, Young said of the four children who perished. He described their mother and father as being very active in town government, and described all the family members as generous, talented and smart.
Young said townspeople have already reached out to provide support for the survivors, offering places to stay. Young and Warwick Community School Principal Elizabeth Musgraves decided to open the school for a few hours tomorrow for teachers, students, parents and other community members to come together and mourn.
Young said he can’t remember a tragedy to this magnitude happening in Warwick in his decades living there. Gates added that the incident has been “tough” on the firefighters too, but both Gates and Young noted how the community has come together during a difficult time.
“The way we come together to mourn our loss is uplifting,” Young said.
“We just always help each other out,” Gates said. “Our whole town is tremendous that way.”
Gates said he may have another fire department cover for Warwick overnight, but said he knows “if a tone went out right now,” his 12 volunteer firefighters would answer the call.
As for the house, Young described it as a “total loss.”
“There’s not much left of the structure at all,” he said.
When reporters were first allowed on scene shortly after 3 p.m., they found only charred rubble and several burnt vehicles. The wood stove was one of the few recognizable structures left in the house.
A white and black wooden sign at the end of the long driveway read “The Old Whittemore Farm.”
The investigation into the origin and cause of the fire is being jointly conducted by the Warwick fire and police departments and state police assigned to the Office of the State Fire Marshal, the Office of the Northwestern District Attorney and Code Compliance Office in the Department of Fire Services.
When contacted Saturday evening, Mary Carey, spokeswoman for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, said the family members’ identities would be released Sunday at the earliest.