BELEN — Steven Martinez is focusing on getting better rather than his family’s belongings after he suffered second-degree burns in a house fire last week.
Martinez, 47, lived in the double-wide mobile home with his girlfriend of 22 years, Gloria Gurule, and their three children, Angel, 15, Gabriel, 12, and Leticia, 11, for about eight years before flames destroyed the structure on Thursday, Dec. 2.
The fire is thought to have been started at or near the home’s water heater, but it is still yet to be determined, according to Valencia County interim Fire Chief Casey Davis.
Martinez was home with his son, Gabriel, when he said he heard a strange noise.
“Gabriel was in the living room, and I was laying down in the back bedroom,” said Martinez, who is disabled. “I heard something shuffling, and I walked toward the bathroom, and I heard a big whoosh.
“When it first hit me, I closed my eyes and put down my headband,” he said. “I ran down the hallway and told Gabriel to get outside.”
Martinez was able to make his way outside, grabbed his water hose while Gabriel had called 911.
“My neighbor showed up to help, and then the fire department and then the ambulance showed up,” he said.
Martinez said he received second-degree burns on his arms, his face and his lower back as he was trying to extinguish the fire. He was treated for a day and a half at an Albuquerque hospital. He’s now at his mother’s home, who is taking care of his dressings, while his girlfriend and their children are staying at a local hotel thanks to the American Red Cross.
“All the skin on my face was coming off — even on my ears — but right now it’s looking a lot better,” Martinez said. “It felt like I got burned by hot water. I’m just grateful that it was me, and not my son. He didn’t even get a scratch on him, thank the Lord.”
Martinez said he doesn’t have homeowners insurance, and still has two years left to pay on the property.
“I’m going to still pay and hopefully get another trailer placed there,” he said.
Martinez said he is grateful for the community and the schools who have been accepting donations of clothes and hygiene products on behalf of his family.
“It was really nice of them — it’s wonderful,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough. I really appreciate it. I’m just so glad my family didn’t get hurt.”
A GoFundMe account has been set up for the family under Martinez Family Home Fire.
Davis said fire crews were called to the home on the 1500 block of Don Felipe Road, just north of Belen, between 4-4:30 p.m. last Thursday.
Firefighters with Valencia County, Los Chavez, Peralta and Bosque Farms responded to the 911 call, but when they got to the property, Davis said the long, narrow driveway prevented more than one fire truck near the home.
“We had to send the water from Don Felipe and feed it to another truck,” Davis said. “We did our initial attack, but because we were limited on water … the flames were already half way through the house.”
Davis said the double-wide mobile home went up pretty quickly because of the fuel load in the house, which was occupied by a family of five — two adults and three children.
“It was a total loss,” Davis said of the house. “There were only a couple of walls left and the roof is caved in. It’s just an unfortunate accident.”
Davis said firefighters respond to a lot of fires that start in and around water heaters. The veteran fire investigator said homes are either set up for natural gas or propane, but every water heater has to be set specifically for either one.
“If you have propane, you have to do a modification to the water heater to accommodate for the propane because of the size of the orifice for the fuel to go through,” he said. “One is bigger than the other depending on what fuel you’re using. If that doesn’t get done, that poses an issue on how it functions.”
Davis also said if homeowners notice water is leaking from the water heater, it will most likely erode the floor underneath and it will eventually give way, causing it to catch fire.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.