Family fights back tears as they watch home burn

A Hermiston firefighter emerges from a cloud of smoke while responding to a mobile home fire Tuesday in Hermiston. <i>Staff photo by E.J. Harris</i>

A tearful Hermiston family watched fire destroy their home Tuesday after it erupted in flames a little before noon.

Rafaela Garcia put her face in her hands to block out the view of smoke billowing from her single-wide mobile home at 610 E. Newport Ave. , No. 8. Garcia escaped unharmed with her three children, Noberto, Gumaro and Itzael.

A growing group of neighbors and friends comforted the family. Noberto, 13, stood next to his mom, wearing only T-shirt and shorts to ward off the frigid air. He brushed back tears.

Noberto said his mother first noticed smoke coming from a room in the rear of the home that houses the hot water tank.

"We tried to turn on the outside water, but everything was frozen," he said.

Old heat tape caused the fire, according to Hermiston Fire Marshal Tom Bohm. The tape insulated water pipes going to the family's hot water heater.

About a dozen Hermiston firefighters responded to the fire call. Some donned masks and air tanks and entered the residence. Others remained outside, chopping away the home's metal skirting to get direct access to the underside of the home.

"When we got here, fire was showing out the windows on both sides," said Hermiston Fire Chief Jim Stearns. He and Bohm said the structure was totaled.

Bohm warned about the danger of aging heat tape.

"It's only good for a couple of years," he said. "If you've had it for more than a year or two, you should replace it."

Bohm said Garcia had noticed her circuit breaker tripping over the past several days, but didn't know the cause. "Something was going on," Bohm said.

Bohm said the family had no insurance on the mobile home. The home's smoke detectors had dead batteries.

"It's a good thing the fire happened during the day," Bohm said. "The smoke detectors weren't working."

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