It can be seen in the scars of Alma Rosa Fuentes’ older brother, who fought the fire and smoke to try and find his sister. It’s seen in the firefighter who crawled into the burning building on his hands and knees.
And it’s seen in the neighbor whose entire family tried in vain to save Alma Rosa Fuentes.
Fuentes, a 7-year-old student at Americo Paredes Elementary was killed Thursday, Feb. 13, in a house fire, and several of her family members were hospitalized, one of whom at a San Antonio hospital, after trying to save her.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said a preliminary investigation indicates the breaker box sparked the fire, which spread throughout the home on Bentsen Palm Drive north of Mile 3 Road. This far into the investigation, the sheriff said he sees no criminal culpability.
At the time of the fire, he said eight or nine family members were in the home. All but the girl made it out alive.
Friday afternoon, neighbor Myrna Garza said she had no more tears left in her. All was quiet Thursday night at 9:51 as she came home from work. She specifically remembered looking at the clock at that time. She went inside, had a little bit of food, and then went to throw the leftovers out to the dogs. It was maybe 20 minutes after she got home, Garza said.
That’s when she said she noticed a very bright light around the neighbor’s door. She turned and told her husband the house was on fire. She ran out and told Fuentes’ grandmother there’s nothing she could do now, she should move away from the house.
“La Nina is still inside!” Garza was told.
“I heard screaming like terrified. I said obviously something’s wrong beside the fire,” Garza said.
She and her husband grabbed two axes from their shed and her son jumped the fence into the Fuentes yard. She asked if anyone had called 9-1-1, but, they couldn’t because all of the family’s phones were in the house with the fire. Garza made the call and came back out.
They tried to get in through a back window, the only one, she said, that wasn’t filled with flames.
“The water pressure was just too low,” Garza said. “We couldn’t do anything. The little girl was right there, but we couldn’t see her. There was just a dense, dense fog. We tried with all our cell phones, and we tried getting in, and nothing worked.
The girl’s mother insisted Alma was in that room because that was where she was when the mom last felt her hair. They woke up to the fire, Garza said, and Alma’s mother tried to stop the girl when she cried out, “Abuelita!” and ran.
Alma’s two older brothers tried to get to her, injuring themselves in the process. Garza said one brother got a cut on his hand trying to break out a window. A second brother was taken to San Antonio with burns on his face and arms.
When the Alton Fire Department arrived, Garza said it seemed like an eternity as firefighters tried to get to Alma.
“But after, I want to say 20-30 minutes, we just saw him (a firefighter) run through here, and he was carrying her—it was like a rag doll,” Garza said.
“Her hair was dripping and she was a rag doll, and then, when he came to the ambulance, he gave her to the paramedics and he just fell to his knees and took off his helmet and he started banging the ground, crying, and we knew something was wrong.
“We just knew something was wrong, and there was nothing we could do anymore.”
Treviño said the efforts by the firefighter were "heroic," as he crawled into the home in attempt to find the girl before joining others who broke out all the windows of the home, eventually taking out an air conditioning unit to get to the window. That's where Alma was found, Treviño said.
Garza has lived in her home 13 years and said the Fuentes family was there decades before that. Friday afternoon she was filled with "what ifs." What if she had come back back from church a few minutes later? What if she had come out a few minutes earlier?
"We don't understand and only God knows. You were just feet away," she said. "Maybe if we had reached down. We couldn't see. We couldn't see."
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