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Pre-Christmas fire destroys home of local firefighter
In real Seneca
Curt and Mia
CURT LINDSLEY and his beloved dog, ‘Princess Mia,’ are shown enjoying some time together in better days. Mia perished in a pre-Christmas fire at Lindsley’s rural Seneca home from smoke inhalation. According to Curt’s wife Serina, Mia was Curt’s ‘little princess,’ and was even given her own chair at family camping trips.

SENECA - Another holiday disaster has struck in rural Crawford County. The home of Curt and Serina Lindsley in rural Seneca was destroyed by a blaze on Tuesday, December 21, just before the family planned to celebrate the Christmas holiday. All family members, and two dogs escaped the blaze, but one family dog succumbed to smoke inhalation.

Seneca Fire Chief Tyler Aspenson reported that the call came in to his department at about 3:50 p.m. on December 21. By the time his department arrived on the scene, the one-story structure was fully engulfed in flames. Mutual aid was called in, with the Gays Mills, Eastman and Ferryville fire departments responding. Aspenson said that the aid was needed in order to supply water to suppress the fire. He said his department was on the scene until 7 p.m., and was called back again at 10 p.m. to fight a flare up. Aspenson said the cause of the fire is “under investigation.”

“Cold conditions and heavy winds complicated our efforts to fight the blaze, but because there was only one story and no basement, there was less problems with later flare ups than there could have been,” Aspenson said. “Because of the cold conditions, the driveway became very icy, but a member of our team was able to address the icy conditions to allow us to exit the scene safely.”

A clothing, household goods and Christmas presents drive was set up by the fire department. A member of the fire department team reported that the response had been so overwhelming from the community, that the drive was called off at 10 a.m. the next morning. This was due in part to the fact that the family had nowhere to keep the donated items until new housing can be secured. Donation buckets remain in place at Johnson’s One Stop and Greener’s Corner.

A ‘Go Fund Me’ account was set up for the family as well. As of 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 27, $12,019 has been donated. In addition, donation accounts will be set up at the Royal Bank in Gays Mills and the People’s State Bank in Seneca. Donations can be made with ‘Lindsley Fire Fund’ in the memo line.

A near thing

Serina Lindsley’s father, Jay McCloskey, had planned to travel back to the Twin Cities for the holidays. Unexpected circumstances forced him to cancel his travel plans, and so he was on the rural Seneca property when the fire broke out.

“I noticed my lights flickering at about 3:42 p.m., and texted a friend who lives nearby to ask if he’d experienced the same thing,” McCloskey remembered. “Then I looked out the window, and noticed smoke coming from the direction of Curt and Serina’s house. I immediately called 911, and then grabbed the fire extinguisher and headed over to the house.”

McCloskey said that upon arrival it was immediately apparent to him that the blaze was not a small fire he could extinguish himself. He approached the house, opened the door, and attempted to enter to see if there were any pets inside.

“Upon opening the door, I ran into a wall of smoke, and heat,” McCloskey said. “I couldn’t enter, but left the door open so any animals inside could exit the building.”

Serina Lindsley had been home that day with her two children, Joe, 10, and Sadie, 8. They had left the property only 45 minutes before to pick up a friend’s child after school had let out.

“I was just arriving at the house, when I received the text that my house was on fire,” Lindsley remembered. “My mind went blank with shock, and all I could do was get the kids in the car and race back home.”

McCloskey said that there was a large amount of sparks and flaming debris coming from the fire that could easily have set their woods on fire if it hadn’t been caught. He said that if the woods had caught on fire, his cabin could have burned as well.

Lindsley complimented the rapid response of area fire departments. She said that she had to pull over going up the hill on Highway 171 out of Gays Mills to allow fire engines to proceed.

At the same time, Curt Lindsley was working a construction job in Ferryville with Andy Novak. Novak was wearing his radio, and he and Lindsley heard the call that the Lindsley’s house was on fire. Curt Lindsley raced home to the scene, followed closely by some members of the Ferryville Fire Department.

“Curt was there, fighting the fire at his own home,” Serina remembered. “Two of our dogs had used the dog door to get outside into an enclosed area, and the fire departments were able to move the fence and allow them to safety, but Curt’s favorite dog, Mia, didn’t make it out – I’m grateful that other members of the fire department were there to hold Curt up when they found Mia.”

Serina Lindsley said that Curt and the dog Mia had always been inseparable companions, “like Velcro.” She said that losing the dog was the most devastating part of the tragedy.

“I called the dog Princess Mia because Curt spoiled her so,” Lindsley said. “She was some kind of special, and the things we lost in the fire are just things, but losing Mia – that was the hard thing.”

Grit and determination

Lindsley reports that the family intends to live in a camper on the property until they can begin to rebuild their home in the spring. Her father, Jay McCloskey said that he is working on various projects to winterize the camper for the winter, such as building a skirt around the base, a septic system, and laundry facilities. The family had completed construction on their home just three years before, literally moving in on Christmas Eve.

In addition to their dogs, the couple also has horses and cattle to house and care for. Lindsley said that one thing they are looking for ideas or assistance with is making a warm enclosed outdoor space for the dogs. She said that the camper is too small to keep them indoors all the time, and they need someplace warm and enclosed to be able to be outside.

McCloskey said that on the night of the fire, he had spoken with his daughter about where the family would live until they could rebuild their home.

“Serina told me that though they had just lost their home, the farm is their home,” McCloskey said. “She said that they were not going to leave the farm.”

Gratitude for response

Lindlsey reported that her family has been cobbling together a lifestyle in the camper, eating food that can be cooked in a microwave and showering at friend’s homes.

“Nevertheless, due to the unbelievable generosity of the community of Seneca, we were able to use blankets and stuffed animals donated to make a safe and welcoming place in the camper for the kids,” she said. “The generosity of the community has simply been overwhelming – in a good way.”

Lindsley said that the kids have been traumatized, but have also been “remarkably resilient” in the face of the crisis. Lindsley’s aunt had taken the kids shopping for new clothes to replace those lost, and made it a fun thing, buying matching outfits for the cousins. The family was able to spend Christmas Eve with Tyler Aspenson’s family. Serina Lindsley reported that “that was very nice” because Aspenson’s son is good friends with her son Joe Lindsley.

“Due to the generosity of the community, we were able to have a very nice Christmas,” Lindsley said. “That really helped the kids get through this tough time.”

Lindsley said that the Seneca Fire Department’s donation drive had been called off early the day after the fire due to the overwhelming response. She said that the donations had filled a whole bay in the fire department’s building.

“We are so thankful and overwhelmed for the amazing support our family has received from the community,” Lindsley said. “We don’t even begin to know how to thank all the people who stepped forward to help us in this difficult time.”