Family loses home to fire one week before Christmas

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Red flashing lights could be seen in a dirt yard just west of the railroad tracks off of Lopez Road north of Belen.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Flames rip through a double-wide mobile home near Mesa and Lopez roads north of Belen on Monday morning. No one was injured.

The skeleton of a blue mobile home remained and a few emergency crews remained on scene to clean up on that Monday morning.

An hour prior, plumes of black and brown smoke floated over the valley and 20-foot tall flames shot through windows, doorways and the brown tiled roof of the double-wide mobile home. The home was a total loss.

About 9 a.m., the homeowner, Estela Rios, left her home to run errands, such as going to the post office and to Albuquerque to pay some bills. Rios found out about the fire after her sister-in-law, who usually comes over for coffee, told her the bad news.

Rios stood against her white car and seemed shocked about what just happened. She was wearing a gray knit sweater, jeans and black sneakers — all the clothes that weren’t inside her home of six years.

Still, she is thankful — thankful that her children, a 2-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl, were not at home at the time of the fire that ripped through the family’s home.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Rios said. “I didn’t know what happened. It’s just sad. Thank God no one was home.”

Rios, who was proud to buy a home in her hometown, said the family used an electric heater in the master bedroom — the room where most of the fire was concentrated when crews arrived.

The structure was fully engulfed when crews arrived. Valencia County Fire Marshal Casey Davis said the cause is undetermined.

By 12:30 p.m., the Valencia County EMS Coordinator Nicholas Moya walked over and told Rios that the American Red Cross was in route to the scene from Albuquerque to assist the her and her family.

The disaster action team of the Red Cross eventually arrived and provided a credit card that addresses immediate needs, such as food and clothing. The family will get enough money for food to last three to five days. Rios plans on staying at her mother’s Pueblitos home.

Two firefighters also approached the woman and handed her a picture of her daughter — something that was saved from the fire.

Rios said she was thankful that her two dogs and a horse were spared from injury. The family’s pet rabbit died in the fire. The dogs, blue heelers, are very protective of the children and loved by the whole family, Rios said.

“One day, everything is fine,” Rios said. “The next (day) you don’t even know.”

Fire crews from Valencia County, Los Chavez, Peralta, Jarales and Rio Grande Estates responded to the fire. Crews used several tanker trucks that can carry anywhere from 1,800 to 3,000 gallons of water at a time.

According to Davis, crews use tanker trucks 85 percent of the time because there are no water hydrants close by. This fire, he said, used about 8,000 gallons of water.

Los Chavez firefighter Mike Brophy said this blaze was troublesome because flames from the bottom of the structure would suddenly appear inside, which made it hard for crews to predict.

“We were attacking a wall and I looked behind me and saw more flames coming up,” he said.

Brophy said these days, fires burn hotter and faster with homes made out of synthetic materials. He said the new equipment the fire crews wear makes it hard to tell how hot the fire actually is at any given time.

On this occasion, crews were able to knock down the fire by about 11:15 a.m. Crews remained on scene until after 1 p.m. to mop up hot spots.

Rios said she and her family will have to start over just a few days before Christmas.

“We are all OK,” Rios said. “That’s all that matters.”


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