A day meant to be filled with celebration ended in tragedy two weeks ago when a fire took hold of the Ornelas home of nine years.
Yolanda Ornelas and her husband, Raul, were leaving their granddaughter’s birthday party and headed toward a family quinceñera when the fire broke out. Raul’s daughter Becky and his granddaughter Irma live with the couple, along with their son.
Becky was changing for the quinceñera at her sister’s house in Peñitas when she got a call from a cousin who saw the flames from U.S. 83. At the same time, a neighbor called Yolanda to tell her to get home right away.
Meanwhile, Raul’s daughter Cecilia Gomez was already at the quinceñera, saving a table for the family. She wondered why everyone was taking so long before she got a call about the fire.
“I knew that they weren’t in the house because they were on the way to the quinceñera, so that gave my heart peace, but it was just the longest drive,” Gomez said. “It’s like when someone dies. We’re still grieving.”
The thoughts of many in the family turned to its newest family member – a pig named Mustang. Mustang was a gift to Irma on her 15th birthday last month. He was stinky, but well loved, the family agreed. Just the day before, Raul banished Mustang to a pen outside for being “naughty.”
That outdoor pen saved Mustang’s life. But as the family sat on a bench across the street in the neighbor’s yard, Becky wished she could grab a hose herself to help the firefighters work faster.
Becky knew there were mementos in the house that could not be replaced. Irma’s father had given her a dress that she wore at her quinceñera. He’d given it to her last year to wear for a pageant. The night of the pageant, Becky and Irma received a call that Irma’s father had died.
“That had a lot of sentimental value,” Becky said. “She used that dress for the father-daughter dance, and she danced with my dad and two of her uncles and her brother, and it’s gone. That’s what I worried about.
“Thank God, most of the stuff was saved, but she’s very sad about that. We had so many memories in that house – a lot of pictures, a lot of things of sentimental value that we lost.”
The Ornelas’ had the three-bedroom home built nine years ago. Yolanda chose the tall front door because she wanted it to be big and make an impact. They still haven’t decided whether to rebuild or buy a new home. They planned to stay at the Casa de Palmas Renaissance Hotel in McAllen until next week while they find a three-bedroom home or a large apartment to rent.
Meanwhile, the community has been great, Becky said. The family has received donations of clothing, money, food and school supplies. Three accounts have been created to help the family get back on its feet – one each at IBC Bank and La Joya Federal Credit Union as well as a GoFundMe account.
“I can’t believe it. I can see the house, and I still can’t believe it,” Becky said. “It like a nightmare, but the good thing is we’re all alive – nobody was home … We’ll make new memories.”