ELKHART — Alfredo Garcia thought he was upgrading his family to a better home when he moved from a two-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom trailer in the Four Seasons Mobile Home Park on C.R. 3 last month.
The Elkhart resident and his four children moved to their new home Nov. 1, only to lose it a week later to a fire.
Now, with the help of Elkhart residents, he and his family are moving to a new home filled with furniture and other household necessities.
Garcia said he was doing laundry on the evening of Monday, Nov. 11. He fell asleep around 10 p.m. after putting a load of clothes into the dryer and awoke about an hour later.
“I woke up and felt so much heat on my feet,” he said.
A fire had broken out in the laundry room, filling the home with heat and smoke.
“I panicked,” Garcia said.
He started yelling to wake up his kids and one by one ran to their rooms and pulled them outside, first his 13-year-old son, then his 6-year-old daughter, then his 12-year-old daughter.
He had to return to the house three more times searching for his 10-year-old son because the smoke was so thick he couldn't see or breathe.
Once outside, they woke up their neighbors, who called 911.
Garcia suffered minor burns to his feet, and the 10-year-old suffered burns to his head from the extreme heat.
Everything in the home was blackened by smoke and could not be salvaged.
When Garcia went back several days after the fire to see if there was anything worth saving in the house, he found it had been burglarized.
“They took all the electronics,” he said. “The TV was melted. Who would steal a melted TV?”
After friends organized a Facebook page seeking help for the Garcia family, donations poured in.
The items, piled into an office in the Roosevelt Center, included beds, a sofa, tables and chairs, clothing, televisions, a desktop computer and a stove.
He and the children lived with his ex-wife while Garcia looked for a new place, but on Friday, Dec. 6, Garcia and a few helpers gathered to move the items into his new home.
“I wasn't expecting this,” he said, looking at the room filled with donated items. “There have been times I wanted to tell them to stop. I was expecting maybe some clothes. I really wasn't expecting this much help. It's just too much.”
The new home is bigger and has a smoke detector in every room, something Garcia was sure to check.
“I panic about that now,” he said.
While heat from a furnace or the smell of burning food startles Garcia, he said his children are handling everything very well.
They're safe and that is far more important than the possessions they lost, he said.
“I came into this world naked and everything else I earned,” he said. “I'll earn it all again.”