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Harlingen Family Lives in Tent After Fire Destroys Home

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HARLINGEN - A Rio Grande Valley man is sleeping in a tent after his family’s home was destroyed by a fire last month.

Damatrial Leal, the man’s wife, said nearly everything in her house was destroyed by the blaze.

“I heard the sound of the smoke alarm. I heard knocking on the door as if it was raining,” she said. “I opened the door and I felt the flames. I felt the heat on my face.”

Leal said the American Red Cross granted them money for a hotel following the fire. She and her children left, but her husband decided to stay.

“My husband stays here. He doesn’t want to leave. He stays in this tent. But we take turns so he won’t stay alone because he is in bad health,” she said.

Leal said her husband is trying to protect what’s left of the home he worked on for decades. The city gave them a container to remove all debris left behind after the fire.

The mother said her family is looking towards the future.

“I’ve lived here for many years. We talked about the possibility of reconstructing once we clean up everything,” Leal said.

We spoke to American Red Cross disaster program manager Lina Romero who is working with the Leal family. The organization also referred the family to other agencies such as the Salvation Army, local food banks and Loaves and Fishes, a temporary shelter.

Romero said the Valley has limited resources when it comes to aiding families in disaster situations. She added staff will continue to keep contact with the family until they have a permanent place to call home.

Gualberto Torres, driver for the San Benito Fire Department, said people can take preventative steps against a potential house fire.

He said smoke detectors can be a matter of life or death, and advised for them to be kept up-to-date.

“You want to make sure the batteries are working properly, and you want them either in a bedroom or, ideally, in every room of the house,” he said. “It gives you precious seconds to get out while you can still see something, versus once the house is already full of smoke.”

Torres advised others to create an escape plan with family in case of a fire. He said there should always be two exit points from a house, one in the front and another towards the back of the home.

Most importantly, Torres said people should avoid re-entering the home once they made it out of the fire.

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