Alma Salas printed out an application for Extreme Home Makeover the night before her house was destroyed by fire.
“It wasn’t a perfect home, but I bought it with intentions of building it up,” she said. “Now it makes me feel like I wanted too much and I should have been happy for what I had.
“Now that I don’t have it, I miss it. It’s a horrible feeling.”
Alma Salas grew up in chicken coops and migrant camps across the country and had her first child when she was 16. When Marc was born, she said she knew she had to change her life in order to give her children a chance of survival in the world.
“By the time I had Marc, I wanted to make sure he had everything I never had,” she said.
She earned her GED, associate’s degree, and is now working full time and going to school full time to take care of her five children.
She purchased her first home five years ago.
“I didn’t do it for anybody but my children because I have to set an example for them,” she said.
“I was proud of her when she bought her new home, proud of her for doing that on her own,” Alma’s mother, Petra Lozano, said. “And to see everything just go down in flames, it’s devastating.”
Alma said she has watched news reports of families losing their homes to fires, and read articles in the newspaper, but never imagined she’d be a victim.
“I never really knew what it felt like,” she said. “We didn’t have much, but whatever we did have, it’s no longer.”
After a Wednesday morning fire, Alma and her fiance, Francisco Rogue, stayed three nights at the Travelodge with their five children and the homeless friends that lived in their basement, Ashley Cox and Juan Vargas.
They found an apartment that is much smaller than their five-bedroom home, but “it’ll work,” she said.
Her insurance gave them options. The company will pay off the rest of the mortgage, but Alma would be left with the burned house and land. Or the insurer could build the family a new home, with Alma continuing to pay the mortgage. No belongings lost in the fire will be covered.
She is choosing to build a new home. The insurance will provide $107,000 of the building costs, but that will not rebuild Alma’s five-bedroom home. Contractors have told her she needs at least $170,000 to get back to where she was.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said, hoping friends who install sheet rock and paint will help work out a deal with the contractors. She’s also hoping for donations.
So, for the next six months while her house is being built, she must quit school and find another job to pay for the mortgage and rent payments.
“My kids are my first priority and I just want them to be safe,” she said. “I’m a very proud person; I don’t like people to feel sorry for me. But I have to place my pride aside for the health of my children. I can understand the saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ I’m going to get my children out of this.”
Alma Salas’ family is just one of many families that lose possessions to fires every day.
There are plenty of places to go for help, though, and the Salas family’s help began with the American Red Cross. Deborah Lineberger, director of emergency services for the local chapter, said not all families need assistance when there’s a fire, but the Red Cross is there on the scene if needed.
The Red Cross put the Salas family in a hotel for two nights, gave the family a clothing and food allowance, and directed them to other organizations that can step in after two days.
“We always are there if they have questions and help them find other organizations if we can,” she said.
On top of financial help, the Red Cross also offers disaster mental health assistance.
Alma Salas said other organizations and businesses have reached out since the fire.
Helping the Less Fortunate Ministries is helping the family furnish their apartment.
“If it weren’t for the ministry, I don’t know where I’d be,” she said. “The man in charge told me not to worry, that he’d take care of me, and that I’m his new daughter.”
Even with all the help the family has received, the real challenges for Alma, Francisco and the five children are just beginning.
“Now I don’t know what to expect,” Alma said. “Everything’s on my shoulders. I have to make sure everyone’s taken care of and has a place to sleep.”
Alma hopes that with the love and support from her family and organizations around Rowan County, she and her family will not be changed by the fire, and that in six months, things will be back to normal.
“I was a single mother for years, I have five children, and whatever I faced, I came out on top,” she said. “I’ve been through a lot and I’ve come out of it.”
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