Blaze destroys vacant Belen home

........................................................................................................................................................................................

A home that has been vacant for several months was destroyed by a fire Tuesday night.

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: Belen firefighter Charles Cox shoots water from atop a fire truck as flames engulfed a home in Belen Tuesday. Fire investigators are still working to determine the cause of the blaze.

About 20 firefighters from Belen, Rio Grande Estates and Los Chavez fire departments fought back flames that devoured a brick house on the 500 block of 12th Street in Belen, which was owned by the late Jim Sanchez, who died in March.

Since then, no one has lived in the house, and neighbors and family members say someone had broken windows and spray painted the front of the house as early as a week after Sanchez’s death.

But Belen Fire Chief Manny Garcia said the cause of the fire is still undetermined and under investigation.

“After doing a preliminary investigation, it appears that most of the fire was in the roof area, above what appears to be the kitchen and dining room area,” said Garcia, who added that no one was injured as a result of the fire. “The area of origin appears to be in the roof area, and from there, it spread due to the high winds. We aren’t ruling out that the cause of the fire was electrical or incendiary.”

Garcia said he spoke with Sanchez’s son, Adrian, who told him that he was responsible for the house and it had been vacant, but was secured and insured.

“We’re following up with witnesses who said they saw someone leaving the area,” the fire chief said. “What we’re doing is going to the county clerk’s office pulling document concerning the house.”

Garcia said that when he first arrived on scene, the front porch light was on, but family members told fire investigators that the power had been turned off. The fire chief said he is waiting to hear from PNM regarding the status of the power to the house.

“There are no injuries, and no one was in the house when we got there,” the fire chief said.

Firefighters initially had difficulty making entry into the house because the doors and windows were secured with wrought iron security bars, the chief said. It was only after firefighters were able to take down the bars that they were able to enter the house.

“When I arrived, the fire was on top of the roof,” Garcia said. “It had self ventilated through the roof. It’s (the damage) is pretty extensive. At first, we thought we could contain it, but the wind picked up and it shifted the flames to the entire roof. I estimate it is a total loss.”

Sanchez’s grandson, Adam, learned of the fire when he returned home with his girlfriend, Alianna. He said when he walked inside his house, his mother screamed, “Let’s go to Grandpa’s, his house is on fire!”

They jumped in the truck, and when they pulled up, the only thing they said they saw was flames shooting up from the roof.

“I just jumped out of my truck, put my hands over my head and started freaking out,” said Adam Sanchez. “I’m just heartbroken.”

According to Sanchez, all that’s left from his father’s side of the family is him, his uncle and two cousins.

“My uncle has his home, his wife, his life,” he said. “In the future, this was going to be our home. I just can’t believe I’m standing here watching my home burn down.”

Sanchez said a relative was driving by the house to check on it when she saw flames. He said she saw the smoke, and when she turned around at the end of the road, she saw someone on a peddle bike looking back.

While the Sanchez’s relative may have seen someone suspicious that night, several neighbors didn’t. With a wet paper towel covering her mouth from the smoke-filled air while standing across the street watching firefighters battle the blaze, Margaret Garcia said the first thing she noticed was the smell of smoke.

“I didn’t think too much about it, but then a girl pounded on my door and asked if she could use our hose because the house across the street was on fire.” Margaret Garcia said. “She was hysterical.”

Garcia immediately called 911, and then her neighbor to inform him of the blaze. She said all she could see was smoke billowing from the roof.

“The whole front of the house had been spray painted,” she said of the vandalism. “It began about the week Jimmy died. I never saw anyone suspicious in the area — and we were watching.”

As she watched her neighbor’s house go up in flames, Garcia shook her head saying, “Now we’ll have another house boarded up,” referring to another house on 13th Street that has been left untouched since a fire destroyed it in April 2009. “I’m trying to sell my house, but with this, I think I’m going to have a harder time.”

Joe Maestas, the former Belen city manager, lives a few houses down and across the street from the burned house. He was at home, visiting with relatives, when his neighbor, Margaret Garcia, called, informing him of the fire.

“At first, I did smell smoke, but I thought someone was barbecuing,” Maestas said. “It was about 8 o’clock, or a little later. It (the house) had been vandalized — graffitied.”

Sandy Roldan, who lives next door, said the first thing she heard regarding the fire was when a police officer knocked on her door saying, “You might want to know your neighbor’s house is on fire.”

Roldan said she also didn’t see anything or anyone suspicious that night in the neighborhood.

“All I saw was flames, and it just kept going and going,” Roldan said.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.