WARWICK (CBS) — With frost on the windows of the small church, pastor Gordon Ellis told churchgoers that “God’s heart was the first to break” after a fire tore through a nearby home Saturday morning, killing a mother and four children.
“It’s probably the most traumatic thing that’s happened to this community in many years,” Ellis told the congregation one day after the deadly blaze.
Trinitarian Congregational Church ran out of heating oil, but Ellis still opened his church to all to mourn the community’s loss.
Dozens gathered for the memorial service Sunday morning.
“In the face of such a tragedy, we need Divine help and to know God cares,” Rev. Ellis told the congregation.
Selectman Lawrence Pruyne talked to reporters after the service, telling them the family was “wonderful.”
Pruyne knows the family well. His wife taught the piano to the mother and daughter who died in the fire, along with the daughter who survived.
“One thing you could tell is that her kids were at the center of her life,” Pruyne said of the mother.
“You have to seek solace in who’s left,” Pruyne told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Karyn Regal. “You need to cherish the moments that you have with the people you know, because you never know when will be the last time you see them.”
The shock and heartache for the people of the remote town of Warwick is beyond words.
“It’s devastating. It will be awhile before we all take it in,” Miriam Williamson said.
Several burned-out vehicles still sat on the property, and several inches of ice coated the driveway Sunday.
The fire at the Richmond Road home began around 12:45 a.m. Saturday. Firefighters said the home was fully engulfed in flames by the time they arrived, and that its remote location made it difficult for crews to fight the blaze.
The volunteer fire department had to pipe in water on the freezing, windy night through the woods from a pond that was about a quarter of a mile away.
Two of the people inside the home got out. The family has not yet been identified.
The State Fire Marshal’s office believes a wood-burning stove may have caused the fire, but the investigation continues.
The Pioneer Valley Regional Schools where the kids attended were open Sunday for grief counseling.
“My focus is to have a normal day and have supports in place for those students and staff having difficulty,” Ruth Miller, Pioneer Valley Regional School District superintendent, said.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Karyn Regal reports