Two house fires leave victims homeless

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A house fire in Pine Hill left a family of eight homeless after a chimney fire torched the roof completely in early December. The Pino/Jake family lost their home on Dec. 10, after what started as a chimney fire quickly spread through the house between the ceiling and the roof, destroying the wiring and damaging the home beyond repair, and leaving the family without a home.

Almost two weeks later, on Dec. 21, the Caudill family home went up in flames, just north of Fence Lake. The house, an older mobile home, was a total loss within 10 minutes.

No one was injured in either fire, but both left families homeless for the holidays and into the new year.

The Quemado High School's Do Something Club, among others in the community, are reaching out to help the families by holding a clothing, household item and fund drive through the school.

Ricky Pino and his brother extinguished the fire themselves, when the closest fire department — coming from Candy Kitchen a few miles away — lost their way and couldn't find the house. It took the next closest fire department out of Ramah approximately 45 minutes to respond.

Pino and his wife, Iris Jake, have six children — three boys and three girls, five of whom attend school at Quemado schools. The youngest is five years old and not yet in school. They are currently staying in a four-bedroom apartment provided by the Navajo Nation.

The Pino/Jake family had planned to clean up the house and rebuild the roof and ceiling. While they were away in Gallup purchasing supplies, an inspector from the Navajo Nation came to inspect the house. They were later told that the house was condemned due to smoke and heat damage, and they could not rebuild.

They will have to demolish the house and build a new one from the ground up. Jake said that the Southwest Indian Foundation has committed to helping them build a new house in the spring. In the meantime, they have lost all of their belongings from the fire.

"We still can't go back into the house," Jake said.

Barbara Caudill was home making Christmas candy, while her husband Darren and their 13-year-old son were away picking up one of their daughters for the holidays. Caudill said she was stirring the candy, which must be constant to avoid burning, when she kept hearing a sound like water running from down the hall. After some time she glanced to her side and saw smoke in the hallway. At that moment, the power went out, and she said she knew it was a fire. Caudill, whose husband is a volunteer with the Fence Lake fire department, grabbed the fire radio and called in the fire. She then attempted to go out the back door, but flames were coming in from the back of the house, so she turned around and went through the smoke and some flames to go out the front door. She came back in the house to grap the two family dogs and left again from right inside the front door. By that time, flames were out the front window of the house.

By the time the fire department arrived, 20 minutes after receiving the initial alarm, the house was completely engulfed and the fire had leapt from the house to an electrical pole, and then to a motor home that was parked adjacent to the house. The Caudills have not been able to find their seven cats, but hope that they are hiding and will return home soon.

"We could have had the truck parked right there (at the house), and still not been able to save it," Fence Lake Volunteer Fire Chief Charley Jasper said. "They (mobile homes) go that fast."

Jasper said that with all mobile home fires, but especially older model homes, "the best thing to do is get the heck out."

The Caudill family is currently staying at Darren Caudill's uncle's house nearby. They plan to return to their property as soon as possible, but do not know when that will be possible at this time.

"The only thing I got out of the fire was my wife and my puppies." Daren Caudill said.

Quemado High School's Do Something Club is accepting donations of cash, food, clothing and household items for both families, until further notice. The club is a local member of DoSomething.org, a national nonprofit organization for young people and social change. The effort offers to help high school students and other young people who want to do good in their communities.

"We are combining donations together and will give some to each family," Kate Eberle, the Do Something Club's coorinator, said. "This is going to be a long process, because the damage (to both houses) is so extensive."

The Club has collected clothing size for all of the family members of both families, and has a list of other items needed specifically for each family. For further information on how to help, contact Kate Eberle at Quemado Schools at 575-773-4700.