The fire happened so fast. Luis Mendez and his wife Yasmine had barely stepped away from their cooktop — he went outside briefly and she to another room — when she smelled smoke and ran back. “The kitchen was in flames,” she recalled.
“My little ones were asleep,” she continued. “I grabbed them and ran out of the house.”
The family was safe. But by the time firefighters arrived — and it wasn’t long — “everything was destroyed.”
Ms. Mendez can confirm with her own eyes what experts tell the Red Cross: you only have two minutes to escape a burning home. And her family’s experience is not uncommon. Cooking is the leading cause of home fires.
Now she’s even a stronger believer in smoke alarms. When they first moved into their mobile home in Clayton County, it had a working smoke alarm. “But that day it was not working,” she said.
In the middle of that day in February, the Mendez family became just the latest of around 5,000 people in the Atlanta area hurt by home fires over the previous 12 months - and among tens of thousands nationwide.
For them, as with so many, the loss was devastating. Seven were living in their home. In addition to the parents and their two youngest children, there were two youngsters in elementary school and Luis Mendez’ brother.
Ms. Mendez’ mother put them up in a hotel right after the fire. And they soon found another place to live in neighboring Henry County.
But they needed so much more. And that’s where the Red Cross came in. “The Red Cross helped a lot,” she said. Its financial assistance provided all their basic needs, everything from food to clothing to diapers to baby wipes to air mattresses — which were necessary until they could find new furniture.
Ms. Mendez especially appreciated caseworker Daniel Brackett, who continued to help during recovery. “Daniel couldn’t have been greater,” she said.
When the family moved into the new home, she did two things right away — buy a fire extinguisher and make sure the two smoke alarms worked. And she will definitely be testing them once a month, as the Red Cross advises.
The family’s recent experience was too wrenching. “We can’t afford to have this happen again,” she said.