Life continues after devastating fire

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Life can literally change in mere seconds. While we often forget that fact as we run through our everyday routines, it sometimes takes a neighbor’s misfortunes to remind us not to take our status quo for granted. That was witnessed two Sundays ago when the Huerta family home on Third Street, between R and Joiner streets, was unexpectedly destroyed by fire. The family was getting into their car to go to church services. A fire made their house uninhabitable, “more than likely,” within four minutes, according to Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt. “I’ve been in the fire business for 28 years. I’ve seen a lot of fires. What surprises me was how quickly that fire chewed up that house,” Fire Chief Whitt said. “Those people were in the house within seconds before that fire consumed that house.” Whitt places the fire, whose cause will probably be undetermined, into priority. “That their stuff got burned is really, really bad. But if they were hurt or killed, it would change their perspective,” Whitt said. “They were happy that it didn’t happen at 2 a.m. because their normal pathways to exit could have been blocked by fire, smoke and heat.” Juan and Fabiola Huerta, and their three children, Karla, 15; Gisselle, 13; and Luis, 9; no longer have a house of their own to wake up in or come home to after work or school. The family members also no longer have any of their favorite clothes hanging in their closets that they can choose from when they have a special day at school or a long-anticipated event that they want to dress up for. Just as importantly, they don’t have their cherished coffee mugs to use while relaxing with a book or TV show on a lazy Saturday. And their books are also a former luxury as the March 27 fire turned the pages to ash. Simultaneously, as lives can instantly be turned upside down, nothing seems to change. I was also reminded of that thought by the fire that ravaged the Huerta house. For a few hours that fateful Sunday, neighbors quietly gathered en masse behind the hard-working firefighters to watch in sympathy as a family’s dreams and their own personal sanctuary burned within seconds and without warning to the ground. The crowd was somber as firefighters rescued little mementos such as a scrapbook, a framed family photo and some business documents. These mementos are today all the physical evidence the Huerta family has to remind themselves of their former milestones. In that same neighborhood 24 hours later, it was hard to imagine a fire recently threatened the area. Except for the blackened and now boarded-up house, along with a faint burnt lingering trace in the air, it was a typical day. There was little foot traffic and few cars traveling by. Except for someone mowing his yard the next street over, the area was very quiet and tranquil. Life moves on. And yet one nearby family’s serenity changed in seconds. The Huertas currently have no place to call home. On Friday, Juan Huerta said his family spent the week at his brother’s house instead of at an out-of-town motel the insurance company suggested. He said they would have been uncomfortable in a motel. Plus his children’s schools and friends are in Lincoln. “No one knows what will happen. The house is burnt out completely,” Huerta said. “I’m talking to the insurance company to see if they can give us a place to stay. We’re going to see if we can fix the house. I spent wonderful years there – all my kids are happy there. We have good neighbors on both sides and the back side.” Now, the Huertas are starting over. “We need stuff for the kitchen, like knifes, spoons, dishes, stuff for our home,” Huerta said. Huerta said his family is OK, although they feel sad about their house. “My wife and kids are doing fine,” Huerta said. “We haven’t talked about it because we’re living with my brother and we don’t have time alone. I think we’re fine. They’re happy kids. But this is something that will forever be on my children’s minds.” Huerta gets strength to move forward through his religion and by “all these nice people, my friends,” asking if they can help. “We don’t worry too much, as long as we’re together. That’s where our power comes from. We’re all in good shape, good health. We can handle everything,” Huerta said. Because of the slowed construction business regionally, Huerta was out of drywall and concrete work from late December to March 25, two days before the fire. “I feel bad asking people for stuff,” Huerta said. “People might not have stuff.” Yet that’s what the Lincoln community does for its residents. “I want to say thank you to everyone who has been thinking of us and praying for us,” Huerta said. “I will do the same when someone else is under the same circumstances.”