A week after a Belen family’s house and all of their belongings were destroyed in a fire, they are contemplating what their next move will be.
Lorraine Garcia, her fiancee Andrew Montoya and her 7-year-old son, Dominic, have been living in a motel room for a week and a half, but, on Saturday, they will need to find a new place to live.
The American Red Cross has given the family vouchers to stay at a motel, for clothes and for groceries.
But the help only goes so far, Garcia said. As the family continues to clean up and haul away their burned home at 1027 Don Felipe Road, their future is still unknown.
“After Saturday, we’re on our own, and we’re still not sure what we’re going to do,” she said.
Garcia had just fallen asleep on the couch after watching a movie Aug. 7 when Montoya woke her, screaming that there was a fire. Garcia’s son and nephew were also asleep in the living room.
“He (Montoya) was staying up for a little while longer, to sharpen his knife because he was going hunting the next morning,” Garcia said. “I must have been asleep for only a half an hour when he woke me up.
“I was laying down and the next thing I remember was him yelling to get out of the house because the house was on fire. I didn’t snap at first because, when I woke up and opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was him at the sink with a pan,” Garcia said.
Because Montoya’s first reaction was to fill up a pan with water, Garcia initially thought it wasn’t a big fire. She got up from the couch, went into the kitchen and grabbed another pan.
When she turned around, she saw the fire wasn’t a small flame, but rather her front porch was totally engulfed.
“I just started yelling for the boys to get up and get out of the house,” she said. “I grabbed the kids, then the cordless phone from my bedroom, and we all flew out the back door.”
As Garcia and the two boys stood outside watching their home burn, Montoya was trying to hook up an outside hose to put out the fire. When his attempts failed, he ran next door for help.
“When I was young, my mom and dad’s mobile home burned down, too,” Garcia said. “And when I was standing outside watching my house burn, all the memories came rushing back.
“I just watched,” she said. “That’s all I could do. I just felt, ‘Why me? Why us?'”
By the time the fire department arrived at the burning house, it was too late. The roof had caved in and everything Garcia and Montoya had was up in flames.
“All we had was the clothes on our backs and socks on our feet,” Garcia said. “I don’t even know if my car can run.”
Garcia’s car also suffered heat damage during the fire. She had parked her car right in front of the porch, but her keys were inside the burning house when she realized she needed to move it.
Montoya, who had an extra set of keys to his truck in his ashtray, had enough time to push her car out of the way with his truck. But, the heat of the fire did melt part of the vehicle’s exterior.
The couple still aren’t sure how the fire started, and Garcia suspects they’ll never find out. Because the fire appeared to start on the porch, Garcia initially believed a pair of mosquito-repellent candles caused the fire.
“We had the candles in these little metal buckets lit because Andy was going in and out, packing up the truck for the hunting trip,” Garcia said. “But the flame was so low, it would have been almost impossible for them to start the fire.”
Because Garcia was in the process of buying the house from her cousin, she didn’t have any home or fire insurance on the house or on her belongings.
If anyone wants to make a donation to help the family in their time of need, an account has been set up at any Bank of the West branch. The account number is 293256947.
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.