North Hills resident Irma Ceto and her three children were lucky to survive the home fire that destroyed her apartment. “If it weren’t for the smoke alarm, we wouldn’t have had time to get out,” she said.
On the morning of July 1, 2015, while everyone was sleeping, a fire started in her children’s bedroom due to an electrical failure. Later, Irma would say there was no smell of smoke to alert her. She didn’t notice anything was wrong until she got up to go to the bathroom and heard the apartment’s smoke alarm beeping strongly non-stop. Then she heard her son Josue yelling out to her.
When she got to the children’s room, there was smoke coming from under one of the beds.
“I wanted to take things with us: money, clothes and supplies I had saved for and bought for the next school year, but there wasn’t any time. Everything caught fire very quickly. I woke them up and rushed out as fast I could. I could hear things exploding inside once we were on the street.”
They made it out in minutes. Left inside and gone forever were her children’s baby pictures, toys and belongings.
The 26-year-old mother of three was left standing on the street in pajamas, without shoes, nowhere to go and three children without a home. Once the flames were extinguished, she saw that nothing was left of her belongings. The fire department told her to keep calm and wait for the Red Cross.
She was not sure how the Red Cross could help. In her home country of Guatemala, she knew the Red Cross helped people replace their medications, which was not an issue for her or her children. To her surprise, the American Red Cross provided her family with lodging that night, as well as water, snacks, and hygiene items for everyone, including a tooth brush, deodorant, soap and shampoo. Volunteers even provided her children with Mickey Mouse plush toys. Irma also received a debit card with some money to get by the next few days. The first thing she did was to buy shoes for the four of them.
It’s been a month and half since the fire. Irma and children Irma, Guillermo and Josue now live in another apartment. It has taken them over a month to recover but they are on their way. Irma states that it would not have been possible without the support of Red Cross case workers and social workers at CALWORKS, a Red Cross partner and government assistance program offered through the Department of Public Social Services.
During the past month, Irma has received what she describes as “kind calls” from Red Cross caseworker Alexa Harper, who has guided her through the recovery process and always asks about her well-being. Irma is moved by this stranger whom she has only “met” over the phone, yet she knows Alexa cares about her family.
There is one thing she will not stop repeating: “God bless the Red Cross and those people who volunteer and donate to make their work possible. I don’t know them but they changed my life. Thank you. ”
Irma wants to give back and will become a volunteer with the Red Cross, to share her message about the importance of having a working smoke detector. She looks at her kids and at the smoke alarms every few minutes. “There they are. I checked yesterday again. They all work,” she says.