Their work finished following a house fire in the 1600 block of Avenue B, Brownwood firefighters packed away their equipment on a windy, chilly Friday afternoon. Fire Marshal Buddy Preston patted 35-year-old Maria Rocha’s shoulder and offered comforting words.
“Anything I can do for you?” Preston asked Rocha, who lived in the home with her four teenage daughters before fire a fire destroyed the home’s interior and rendered the family homeless.
Rocha shook her head.
“Sorry,” Preston told her. “This is the downfall of my job.”
Rocha was the only person in the home, sleeping after working the previous night at Kohler, when something woke her up shortly before 11 a.m. Rocha realized a fire had started in the kitchen, and she rushed outside and called 9-1-1.
Preston said Rocha had been using an electric cook stove as a heating appliance, and said the stove was the source, but not the cause, of the fire.
“It was the source of the heat,” Preston said. “I have a feeling something fell on (the stove) — radiant heat — something got too close.”
Rocha said she lived in the home for 18 years and had no insurance. Her daughters, who attend Brownwood schools, are Jessica Guerrero, 18, Jackie Lopez, 17, Lashia Lopez, 14 and Michelle Lopez, 13.
Rocha said she turned the stove on Friday morning after getting home from work before going to bed. After awakening from feeling pressure on her chest, Rocha said, she believes she heard the voice of her deceased son — Geraldo Lopez, who died two months ago at age 19 — calling out to her.
Rocha huddled with her daughters and American Red Cross representatives, who passed out blankets, as firefighters packed up their gear. She did yet know what the family would do next. “We’re trying to figure that out right now,” Rocha said. “I don’t have anywhere to go right now.”
Their nearest relatives are in San Saba, Rocha said.