ST. PETERSBURG — The Seay family held a family reunion Saturday. More than 100 of them gathered to eat and talk about the old days.
For Charles Seay Sr., 71, and his brothers, it was a chance to get to know the newest generation of nieces, nephews and grandchildren. The event seemed especially timely Wednesday, as the family woke to learn of his death. Charles died early Wednesday morning in a fire at his home at 1310 33rd St. S.
Firefighters responded to the one-story house about 1:25 a.m. and saw flames shooting through a living room window. Inside, they found Seay on the kitchen floor, suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.
There were no smoke alarms in the house, and antiquated burglar bars with keyed locks and no emergency escape latch that prevented an easy escape, said St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Lt. Joel Granata.
"If he would have had a smoke alarm, it would have given him the early detection that he needed to get out," Granata said.
Crews knocked down the blaze in about 15 minutes. Officials have ruled the fire accidental, but have not pinpointed a cause.
Charles took pleasure in simple things, his family members said.
He enjoyed the Bucs, family and fishing by the Skyway and Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach. He grew up in St. Petersburg, the youngest of 10 close brothers.
"He loved to fish, he did," Fred Seay, 78, said of his late brother. "And we loved to play sports, especially softball, and we just loved to be around each other as a family."
Fred is one of just three Seay brothers left.
Earl Seay, 83, said his brother moved into the house years ago. The burglar bars were already there. He said Charles lived there alone and did not smoke.
Outside the home Wednesday, Earl stood on 33rd Street, his eyes red and welling. There were few signs of the fire that took his brother's life.
The smell of stale smoke hung heavy on the back of a light breeze, and some exterior masonry was charred. A coffee table and shelving unit, both burnt black, lay on the front lawn. Plywood covered a side window where the burglar bars were pried open, yellow caution tape dangling in the wind.
Earl thought back to Tuesday, when he and his brother talked about going fishing soon. He recalled life decades ago, when several of the brothers played on the St. Pete Shacklers, a fast-pitch softball team. Charles was the shortstop.
"He was good," Fred Seay said. "I ain't saying that because he's my brother, but he was good. He had a good arm and everything."
Charles had two daughters and a son, relatives said. He worked maintenance for more than 20 years at the Pinellas County Jail before retiring in the last decade, said his nephew Donald Seay.
There, he'd sometimes talk to inmates, a number of whom later recognized Seay when they were out and around the city.
"They knew him as a good guy," Donald Seay said. "They knew him as a friend."
Wednesday was not the first time Charles' had been in a fire.
Once, in 2000, after Charles worked an overnight shift at the jail, he fell asleep cooking pork chops and a grease fire spread, Donald said. A report from the time shows that the blaze destroyed two units in the Queensmark Apartments on 55th Terrace S. Donald wonders whether the same thing happened Wednesday.
Like a lot of families, he said, his gets together too often for funerals and not joyous occasions. "I'm going to miss my uncle," he said. "He was a good man."
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.