BF family loses home to blaze

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In the space of a few moments, 45 years of memories were reduced to ash and rubble Saturday afternoon.

It was a typical afternoon for homeowners Leo and Darlene Torres, their daughter, Andrea, and grandson, Xavier Thomason, 11, at their Park Lane Drive home, Darlene said.

“I had just gone shopping. I always like to decorate my house inside and the yard outside, so the packages of flowers were scattered all over the living room,” Darlene said.

She had fixed lunch for everyone and was looking over her purchases, planning out where the decorations would go, when she says she heard a popping sound from the back porch.

“I could see smoke and I ran out on the back porch. There was a small fire to the right of the door by the extra refrigerator we have out there,” she said.

Darlene ran down the ramp off the back porch that leads into the yard — the ramp her husband needs because he is confined to a wheelchair due to a diabetes-related amputation.

She turned on the water and began spraying down the house with the garden hose, frantically screaming for her family to get out. Andrea and Xavier, who were recovering from a recent stomach bug, were in their bedrooms, as was Leo.

“It wouldn’t stop. I was making no headway,” Darlene said. “One of the pieces of lumber from the deck fell down in front of me, so I moved back. The hose was melting in my hands.”

Hearing the glass in window of her husband’s bedroom blow out, Darlene raced around the side of the house. She needed to get inside.

“By then, people were out in the street, on cell phones. People were holding me back, but I kept yelling, ‘My family is in there.’ I finally realized they were all outside,” she said.

Her neighbors had gone in to make sure everyone was out of the inferno, one man physically carrying Leo out of the home, because his wheelchair became too hot to push.

“The whole house was down within 12 minutes,” Darlene said. “The firefighters were there until midnight.”

Bosque Farms Fire Chief Spencer Wood said the cause of the fire is undetermined.

“It started on the back porch, and by the time I arrived, it was fully involved,” Wood said.

The fire put 29 firefighters from five different departments and 1,700 feet of hose on the ground that day.

With the ruins of their home still smoking, Darlene said she called her insurance company. Within the hour, the company had made arrangements for her and the family to stay at a hotel in Los Lunas.

On Sunday, a representative from the American Red Cross visited the family, giving them cash cards for local retailers so they could buy clothes and food. Darlene said the VA Hospital replaced her husband’s insulin and syringes.

That same day, a neighbor called to let them know that she had “a ton of stuff on her porch,” Darlene said. “People were bringing boxes of food, clothes, even money.

“We will never, ever be able to thank everyone who helped. My grandson’s classmates gave him their lunch money. When we picked him up from school, he came out with a new backpack and school supplies.”

In the week since the fire, Darlene said there has been a tremendous amount of support from friends, family and total strangers and it’s still coming in.

“We have a prayer chain going from Washington state to Oklahoma,” she said.

As they go about the business of putting their life back together, Darlene says she sometimes feels like she is asleep, about to wake up from an awful dream.

But then a drive to the house brings it all back. The loss of a hope chest — a graduation gift to Darlene in 1966 — and its contents. Knowing her dream car, a maroon Ford Fusion bought just last December, was damaged beyond repair as it sat in their driveway.

“Bins and bins of pictures, lots of memories,” she said. “But we’ll make more. It overwhelms me sometimes, but these last few days I realized I’m here, dealing with insurance adjustors and I could be dealing with funeral directors.”

On Thursday morning, Frank Torres, their son, went back to the home to see if anything could be salvaged. Surprisingly, there was.

He found his nephew Xavier’s closet door was closed during the fire, protecting some of his clothes, including his favorite football jersey, his baseball mitt and bat and an electric guitar he received for Christmas.

In his sister Andrea’s room, Frank found a singed picture of Xavier and a package of nail decals, completely untouched.

“The things you find,” Frank says, using a shovel to move around the debris. “It’s hard to see it like this.”

His voice choked with emotion as he stared at the charred furnishings.

The family made it out with the clothes on their backs and little more. The family dog and cat also survived. Xavier’s three geckos did not.

In the kitchen, Frank uncovers a metal plate holder that used to hang on the wall. He props it up against the remnants of a wall. Under more roof rubble and ash, he finds two plates — one intact, the other cleanly broken in half, both blackened. He gently places them on the rack and wanders into what remains of the living room.

The swamp cooler sits in the middle of the room surrounded by pieces of twisted metal from the duct work.

Outside Frank looks at the back deck, just finished in August. Charred posts are all that remain.

His father’s 1978 Chevrolet Impala sits on the side of the house.

“We just had this repainted,” he says, pulling a large flake of moss green paint off the hood. “My mom cancelled the insurance, since he can’t drive anymore.”

Now the Impala sits on rims and melted tires.

Circling around the front, the vinyl siding has been scorched and now hangs in frozen waves down the front of the house. In the warm spring breeze, the tinkling sound of wind chimes is still heard on the front porch.

The breeze also carries the scent of cold ashes.

Under the shade of a cottonwood a swing sways gently, waiting for its occupants to return home.

“Mom and I planted this when we moved here. It was just a twig,” Frank says, pointing up to the tree.

The branches are scorched where it hangs over the roof of the house.

“Mom will have her home back. They will rebuild here,” he said. “There has been such an outpouring of help. Growing up, we never locked the doors. There was no need to.”

After loading up two of his mother’s cast iron skillets that survived the fire, Frank gets ready to leave. He makes sure to close the front door.

A special savings account has been established for the family at State Employees Credit Union. The account number for donations is 3001953500. It is the special account for Leo and Darlene Torres under Frank Torres’ account.


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