Fire victims give thanks

First diploma burns, but Salas family will rebuild its ‘American Dream’

An Odell family recently lost all of their household goods in a devastating fire but are thankful that they all escaped with only a few minor burns.

Antonio Salas, Sr., and the other five members of his household watched in stunned disbelief during the night of April 3 when flames destroyed their Midway Road home. The eldest son, Jose, 19, said the fire took away not only his family’s material goods but the most tangible symbol of their hard-earned independence.

“For us, it was like an American dream to have our own house,” said Jose.

That first home ownership in 2002 had been the reward for more than 12 years of hard work after the family immigrated to the United States from Mexico and settled into the Hood River Valley. Like many Latino families, the Salas’ began their employment history in the United States as farm laborers and then gradually moved into positions with other businesses.

The elder Antonio, who eventually was hired by Wal-Mart, and his wife, Esther, a Taco Time employee, insisted that all three of their children, including daughter Fabiola, 18, and son Antonio, Jr., 16, get as much formal education as possible.

“They told us that we needed to go to school and get good grades to make good money,” said the younger Antonio.

It was a proud moment for both parents to attend Jose’s graduation ceremony last June and watch him collect the family’s first diploma. One of their most poignant losses in the fire was that badge of achievement and the photographs of each child that were showcased on the living room wall.

Jose had been working shifts at both Wal-Mart and Taco Time since his graduation to help make the mortgage payment and save for vocational training.

But his plans to become a mechanic have been put on hold until his family, including his paternal uncle, Felimon Salas, can find a rental home and replace their lost goods. Meanwhile, they are temporarily lodged at the Comfort Suites hotel for a discounted rate and have been given some essential clothing items by the Hood River Chapter of the American Red Cross.

During an interview last week, brothers Antonio and Jose recounted the horror of trying to escape from a fire that had almost fully engulfed their home before they were even aware of the danger. Jose said the alarm was sounded by his girlfriend, April Button, who was sleeping in the living room and was awakened shortly before 2 a.m. by flames breaking through a sliding glass door panel.

“All you could hear was the ‘pop’ of the windows, when we saw the flames it was shocking,” said Antonio, who helped Jose carry his disabled sister out of a bedroom window when the exits were blocked by the conflagration.

They said it was a great relief when everyone was safely away from the fire, which also warped the paint and cracked the windshield on their vehicle, parked about five feet from the home. However, Felimon, realizing they needed a way to call for help, risked a return trip inside the blazing house to retrieve his cell phone. Once emergency responders had been notified, Jose said the family could only stand there and watch everything they owned go up in flames.

“My first thought was to get everyone out, there wasn’t time to go back to get stuff,” he said.

Although the structure was insured and the Salas’ plan to rebuild on the property, they also face the task of replacing all of its contents, which were not covered by their policy.

Jose and Antonio, who also works part-time at Taco Time, think of the fire as only a temporary setback to their future plans, another hurdle that the family will overcome through a united effort.

“You get closer to your family during times like these because you helped one another survive,” said Antonio.

Odell Fire Chief Jeff Walker said the cause of the fire has not been determined. He said it appears to have begun on an outside patio and spread from the roof to the attic while the occupants were sleeping. By the time that firefighters arrived, he said the entire structure was ablaze and, in spite of a four hour battle, it was unable to be saved.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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