That night everyone was home by the time it was 9:30 or so. The house was booming with everybody talking, the kids goofing around, and my adoptive mother and aunt later trying to get the kids to go to bed. Sunday mornings were a whole production of getting eleven people out the door to make it to church on time. Hence my adoptive mother’s constant battle to send everyone to bed early enough every Saturday night. Being that we were that many, we had to go in two cars, sometimes one car (usually my mother’s) leaving first with those of us who were ready. Consequently, that Saturday night was no exception in terms of the quest to get all the kids to bed early. Slowly the commotion of having everyone up and about quieted down. I got ready for bed and climbed in bed extremely satisfied to get under the cover and be able to sleep at last. I shared a room with two of my adoptive sisters, one of whom (Juderne, the oldest of the girls) began a conversation with me while we were both in our respective beds. We talked for a while until I got no response from her after saying something; she had drifted into sleep as I was talking. I then said my prayers and quickly fell asleep as well.
The next thing I knew, my sisters and I were being woken up by our aunt who kept saying: “Wake up, wake up; fire, fire”. I didn’t even have time to fully process what she was saying, but I got up right away and we started looking for a way out. My adoptive parents owned the two-family house and rented the first floor to a single mother of two, whose mother also lived with her. Our household was comprised of my adoptive parents, my six siblings, our aunt, my mother’s father, and myself. At first we all lived on the second floor, with the exception of my adoptive mother’s father who was on the attic. My adoptive parents had just finished the basement, turning it into an extra livable floor with bedrooms and all. That fateful night, my parents and my two brothers slept there in the basement. Once we were awaken by our aunt, she explained that it was coming from downstairs. To this day we do not know how the fire started, other than that it started on the first floor and they fled to save themselves. Fully alert and aware of our predicament, we all ran toward the back door leading downstairs to the basement, where we could go out to the backyard. As soon as we opened the door, we were met with a thick dark smoke that was creeping up via the second floor where we were. The odd thing was a few weeks earlier, a local family faced a similar situation that ended tragically; only the father survived as the fire claimed the lives of both his wife and children. As a result, they had a radio show in which they gave practical tips regarding the dos and don’ts in the event of a fire. One such point was not to walk or run in a fire situation, but rather to crawl or roll in order mainly to conserve oxygen and thus energy. Unfortunately panic took precedence; I for one completely forgot about the guidelines pertaining to surviving a fire. All I could think of is “We need to get out of here”.
When we realized the density of the smoking coming from downstairs, we resolved not to go that route and tried to open the window located in the staircase leading to the basement. Normally, that window opened as easy as 1, 2, 3. However, due probably to the intense heat emanating from the fire, the window would not budge. We tried pulling it up, both me and Juderne (the oldest of the girls) put together, to no avail. You’re probably wondering why we didn’t break the window. That never even cross my mind or that of the girls and our aunt. So, we rushed back into the kitchen which also had a window. Again, just as we did with the staircase window, we tried opening it. The window would not budge. At this point, panic turned into unprecedented fear, as I began to realize we might be trapped in the house. The dark smoke we saw at the back staircase was increasingly creeping into our floor. While we were wrestling with the kitchen window, I overheard my aunt calling out to my mother’s father who didn’t take long to come down. We then went down the hallway (all this time on our feet, not rolling or crawling) toward the dining and living rooms that also had windows. As we were coming into the dining room from the kitchen, my adoptive mom’s father came in from the attic. At least three of us took turns trying to open the windows in both the living room and dining room. As we were all in full blown fear and desperation and kept forcing the windows open, my mom’s father said: “Look how I’m gonna die”.