Although they’re still reeling from their house burning in Ama, Chandell Garcia is grateful for the phenomenal outpouring of support she and her children have gotten from St. Charles Parish Public Schools.
At R.K. Smith Middle and Hahnville High School, her children have gotten clothing and shoes, Garcia said. They also provided gift cards to the family – Garcia and her four children.
“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “It really touched our hearts and showed us love. Those gift cards bought shoes and clothing, and groceries. They really came together and put together a nice package to bless our family with. I can’t say enough about them. I want to say ‘Thank you’ on behalf of myself and my kids.”
It was May 3 when Garcia saw an opening in the stormy weather to do her daily walk that evening and hurriedly set out on the levee with their poodle, Jada. Less than 30 minutes later, a phone call came from the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Their home was on fire.
“All I could do was stand there and just watch in disbelief,” Garcia said.
From the time they were called to the scene at around 6:30 p.m. until the firefighters left at around 10:30 p.m., Garcia remained at the scene. No one was home at the time of the fire, including Garcia, her daughter, Alexis; two sons, Kiwonel and Kivon, and the dog.
Nearly 30 firefighters responded to the call, representing Luling, Paradis and Hahnville fire departments. Luling Fire Chief Craig Petit said the fire apparently started on the front porch or front bedroom.
By then, they were all at the scene watching their lives go up in flames. Although some items may be saved, she is doubtful it will be much of anything.
“I’m just grateful we were out of the house because you could always look at it that I was still asleep there,” Garcia said. “The biggest reality is just being grateful that we still have our lives.”
But her 15-year-son wept, “Ma, all of my baseball stuff …,” and Garcia consoled him knowing what the loss meant to him being such a big fan of the sport. “That’s his world,” she said. In the burnt ruins were his memorabilia, his prized possessions worth more to him than clothes or shoes. “I told him there are some things we can’t replace, but I just thank God we have each other.”
And they do have each other, but now it’s at a hotel room they have in Harahan where they can cook meals and have a refrigerator. It’s not home, but it is a place they can regroup until they can return to Ama.
“The kids are having their moments,” Garcia said. “I’ve seen times when they’re just sitting and wondering what they’re thinking about. I haven’t pushed.”
They were renting the house from St. Mark Catholic Church in Ama, which also neighbors the church.
Garcia said Father Ed Laurden reported seeing sparks coming from the top of the house and it is believed a lightening strike caused the fire. She said she was told a professional inspector was hired who also reported it appeared lightning sent a power surge into the powerline that apparently set the house ablaze.
Garcia was surprised over the report.
“I know when I left there were some lightening flashes, but they looked far away,” she said. “It could have been something already going on because I was asked if I could smell anything before I left.”
But all she remembered was being eager to get her walk done in case stormy weather returned.
After years of relocating with her military husband, she chose St. Charles Parish as their home after she divorced and became a single mom. Garcia sought out the parish for the schools, and they had been settling in well in the community.
But now, the hotel room is home and Garcia is working hard to regain stability in their lives.
Even with their residence burning on Wednesday, she continued attending classes on Saturday toward getting an insurance license. She graduated from nursing school this month and also hopes to soon complete testing.
“I just looked at it … you were just going to do it in case, but now you need it more than ever,” said Garcia of making all this happen. “You have to be strong.”
Father Ed told them plans are to repair the house and he hopes they will come back to the location.
That’s no problem for Garcia, who said they love living there.
“It’s quiet,” she said. “It’s peaceful and we would definitely want to move back in.”