FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A Doney Park family that lost nearly everything in a house fire is trying to help another family whose home burned down last month.
For Joe Canedo, Nov. 25 started out like any other day. He got up before dawn, started a fire in his house's wood-burning stove and headed to his job in the Flagstaff Medical Center cafeteria around 3 a.m.
When his wife Maria woke up around 5 a.m. to check on the fire, she found the family room filled with smoke. Joe rushed home, walked into the room and the lights went out.
As Joe called 911, Maria raced to save Joe's ailing mother. Three Flagstaff police officers arrived at the home in 1900 block of North Turquoise Drive within minutes. They helped lift 76-year-old Antonia Canedo into her wheelchair and cleared everyone out of the house as the smoke grew ominously thick and black.
Once everyone was out, Flagstaff Fire Department crews showed up and put out the flames. Joe, his wife and his mother all escaped the fire unscathed. The house did not.
"The house is totally contaminated with asbestos," Joe said. "The smoke and the asbestos caused a toxic mix in the inner cavity of the structure, so that makes it a total loss."
Joe's mother and father had lived in the Turquoise Drive house since 1976. After his father passed away 17 years ago, Joe and Maria moved into the house to take care of Joe's mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's around the same time. Investigators determined the blaze started in the attic when the old ceramic sleeve around the stove's exhaust pipe — installed by Joe's father decades ago — cracked and a wood beam caught fire.
A few days later, Joe learned about Ron Jones, who manages FMC's radiology department. Ron, his wife Lisa and their six daughters watched their Doney Park house go up in flames just one month before Joe's home caught fire. Joe had been serving him lunch every day at the FMC cafeteria, never realizing they would end up in the same boat. He flagged Ron down and they talked about the fires.
The Jones family has received hundreds of donations since their house burned down. Touched by the way the Flagstaff community had helped him, Ron decided he had to help Joe.
"This reignited the horror of a house fire in my mind and I began to think about all the things he must be going through right now," Ron said. "I immediately called Lisa and told her to start saving everything 'extra' that we have received. We will begin putting them in storage at Silver Saddle Storage so that when Joe finally gets out of the hotel, he will have a head start on furnishings."
Ron and Lisa said earlier this month that they hoped they could find a way to pay back all the people in Flagstaff who have helped them. Ron said making sure Joe gets the help he needs is a way to "pay it forward."
"We want to help Joe in any way we can, just like the community helped us," Ron said.
For now, Joe, Maria and Antonia are trying to get by in a cramped but handicapped-accessible hotel room provided by the American Red Cross. They were hoping to be able to restore their house and move back in, but the asbestos contamination makes that unlikely.
"(The insurance company) told us at first that it would be four to six months, possibly, to get back into the house, but now, with this, they can't give an actual time," Joe said.
Joe, Maria and Antonia are not able to set foot in their house because of the asbestos contamination. All their clothes, heirlooms, computers and important papers are now gone. The Red Cross gave the family some gift cards, which Joe used to buy clothes for his mother, but many of the things his family lost cannot be replaced. Maria, who is a teacher at Mount Elden Middle School and Coconino Community College, is struggling to replace all of her lost school files using whatever was stored on the laptop and flash drives she left in her car the night before the fire.
And then there is the problem of Antonia's health. Antonia was already on a number of medications before she started coming down with a cold the day before the fire. Now, she has to get breathing treatments three times a day. Joe and his wife are struggling to keep up with her medical care now that they have lost all of her medications and medical equipment.
"Everything we had was there," Joe said. "We had the power-lift chair that would lift her up and her own hospital bed. Now we've got her on just the plain sofa that pulls out into a bed."
Staff at FMC helped Joe get a new nebulizer for his mother's breathing treatments and the pharmacy helped him get her medication. She does not adapt well to going to the hospital, so Joe and Maria are caring for her in their hotel room. They hope to eventually be able to get her a new power-lift wheelchair.
"It's brutal trying to pick her up from just a normal recliner or whatnot," Joe said.
Joe said the transition has been hard on his mother. He believes she is aware that her house is gone even though she is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's.
"I think in the back of her mind, it is hitting her," Joe said. "Every time I'm walking out of the bathroom, she says, 'Let's go,' and I say, 'Where do you want to go?' and she says, 'Let's go home.'"
Joe has to tell his mom they are home and change the subject. He wants to get his family out of the hotel room and into a new home, but finding a place that would work for his mother has proved difficult. The insurance company brought in a residential locator to look into finding them an apartment for the time being until they can find a handicapped-accessible home. Joe is now waiting for the insurance company to tell them what their options are.
"We just need somewhere hopefully by the holidays," Joe said.
Medicare officials suggested putting Antonia in a senior care facility while they were displaced, but Joe turned them down.
"I'm an only child and I swore to God I would never put her in any institution or anything," Joe said. "I've kept that promise."
Joe and his wife are just trying to take things one day at a time and counting their blessings.
"When I start getting down I just think, we all made it out OK," Joe said. "Through the grace of God, we'll continue until we're able to get back in (a house)."