When the Torres family arrived home on Wednesday evening, they began going through the normal routine. Nothing was out of the ordinary—the family had changed into pajama’s and dinner was in the Crockpot when the house got cold. Amidst the usual ‘how did your day go’, Michelle Torres asked her husband George and son Justin to check on the fuse box, noting that the bill had been paid and the electricity had shut off. Meanwhile, the usually quiet Yorkie, named Mitzi, barked in the background.
“My husband and my son went outside with flashlights and they were looking at the fuse box, and all my husband kept telling my son was, ‘It’s buzzing. Something’s not right about this,’” Michelle Torres said in an interview Thursday. “On the inside of the house I could smell—it smelled like someone had started a fireplace, and I kept thinking ‘Oh wow, I’m so jealous.’”
The Torres’ live in a rental home in the 2300 block of W North Street, and don’t have a fireplace. When father and son went around back of the house, smoke rising out of the circular vent atop the roof alerted the family to the rising danger suspected to be related to the fuse box buzz.
“He (George Torres) started banging on the door,” she says. “He tells my daughter, ‘get your shoes on and get out of the house—get a jacket on and get out of the house. The house is on fire!’ When I heard that it was like something snapped, and all of a sudden I was clapping my hands loudly going ‘Kids and pets! Kids and pets! Move it, move it!’ she says.
The family managed to escape the burning house unharmed, and although the fire department did their best to save the belongings, the house was rendered unlivable. Firemen took chainsaws to the charred roof to look for glowing embers, and water doused smoke-damaged clothing in the master bedroom, kitchen and Justin Torres’ bedroom. The family had not anticipated that the fire would be so serious, and had escaped the house in socks and jackets, leaving all else behind.
That night the Torres family stayed with Michelle’s mother, and due to a pending assessment from an adjustor, had not been able to remove any items from the house as of Thursday afternoon. Michelle Torres described the damage as minimal, citing the most important aspect being that she has her family by her, however some material possessions of great value to the family were lost.
“My husband is a disabled veteran, so his bed was one of those Tempurpedics because he’s got arthritis and gout and sometimes it’s real hard to get up,” Torres explains. “He’s got a disc that’s broken and he’s got knee issues…My husband, when he goes to the hospital, it’s like a four-month stint. This bed is adjustable and it was ($) 5,900 and it helped him get in and out of bed, so that was probably the hardest thing. It took us forever to be able to get one. Those kinds of things are starting over,” she said.”
Due to her husband’s medical past and the survival of her family, Michelle Torres remained positive. “My husband, I think he took it the hardest,” she said, explaining that at age 36, her husband had flat-lined due to kidney disease and other complications, which was far worse for her and her son. “Honestly, it’s not a great a situation, but I am grateful that nothing happened to the neighbors, nothing happened to us, everybody got out safe,” she said. “Stuff is stuff, we’ll replace it. The onpour of support, I mean, honestly, things could have been so much worse.”
Despite the optimism, the family is facing several issues concerning their living situation. On the night of the fire, the family stayed with Michelle Torres’ mother, and have been issued a card from Red Cross for temporary living in hotels. Past medical bills have stacked against the family’s credit, making the search for a new home more arduous. Michelle Torres, who works as a treatment coordinator at a dentistry for Dr. Jason Wall, has had to take off work to sort through the chaos left by the fire.
“We’re looking, we’re trying, we’re going through every avenue we can,” Torres said. “I hate to admit it, but the [hardest part is the credit issue—when your husband’s in the hospital for four months and hasn’t worked since [age] 36, it’s hard, but we make it happen. We do whatever we can and that’s it.
“Today, there was so much to take care of that I didn’t realize we had to take care of,” she continues. “You cry half the night—stress, obviously—but you have to hold it together because I have kids and you have to show them that no matter what life hands you, you’ve got to strong and keep going.”
The Torres family did not have renter’s insurance on the home, a hard lesson learned, Torres says. In response to the fire department’s efforts and the support the family has received from the community, Torres expressed deep gratitude.
“They (the firefighters) were so compassionate and so kind, I was just ‘wow’, the services they do is just amazing,” Torres said. “I cried. They were trying to save whatever they could and it was so sweet because the fire marshal, Ross Coleman, looked at us and he goes, ‘You know, you can tell thet you guys take care of your stuff. Your house is clean—we tried our hardest to save everything.’ That just made everything feel so warm inside. Just the thought that they were thinking these things and mentioning that in midst of everything, it means that they care about what they do, they’re not just doing it. They love what they do. They have a passion for people,” she said.
Torres also mentioned the support of the community and thanked them for their continued support and prayers. “I really do believe we were being watched over,” she said. “It was obvious.”
Michelle and George Torres have been married for over 21 years. The two have a 21-year-old son, Justin, and a 12-year-old daughter, Scarlet. Scarlet’s dog, Mitzi, was also saved from the fire.
On Sunday, Feb. 9, an egg roll sale hosted by Michelle Torres’ co-workers will raise money to benefit the family. The sale takes place between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. at 26 W 36th Street. More information on the benefit may be found here.