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Thanksgiving night fire leaves uninsured Oak Cliff family struggling

Epigmenia Otero and her family are counting on their jobs and donations to rebuild their Oak Cliff home, which was destroyed in a fire on Thanksgiving night.

The Vera Otero family had lived in the house for 14 years but never bought insurance because their income did not cover their household expenses.

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“We did get estimates. But it seemed like a lot of money for us, so we didn’t buy it,” said Otero, who goes by Epi. “Now, I think even if we would have been strapped for cash, we should have bought it.”

The incident began Thursday afternoon, when the family decided to cook barbacoa for Thanksgiving dinner. They assembled everything to cook outdoors and lit some firewood to prepare the food.

Before dinner, a group of parishioners dropped off a 3-foot statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe they have been taking to different homes ahead of her feast day on Dec. 12.

After dinner, Otero, her three sons and a nephew went to sleep, exhausted from the day, she said.

José Ángel Vera, Epigmenia Otero and their children Uriel and José Ángel pose with their dog Max in one of the rooms of their house in Oak Cliff that was destroyed in a fire.
José Ángel Vera, Epigmenia Otero and their children Uriel and José Ángel pose with their dog Max in one of the rooms of their house in Oak Cliff that was destroyed in a fire.(Omar Vega)

Her husband, José Ángel Vera, said he would remain in the living room with the statue. Everyone was asleep before 11 p.m.

“My husband says he was dreaming he was back in Mexico and it was raining,” Otero said. “In his dream, he could hear thunder and explosions. That’s when he woke up.

He saw their house aflame and rushed to wake everyone.

“He came in to wake us up, yelling for us to get out because our home was burning,” Otero said. “When I was outside, I saw how the room where we were sleeping was burning.”

The family said they think they hadn’t completely put out the fire they used for the barbacoa, and an ember ended up causing the house fire.

“I think it was the Virgin who awoke my husband,” Otero said. “Otherwise we would have been burned.”

Firefighters arrived minutes after the family called 911 and extinguished the flames, but a large part of the home was scorched.

The family is raising money from family and friends through a Facebook page to rebuild the home and pay for clothing and food. Otero, who has two jobs, at a paper tube factory and an events hall, provides most of the family’s income because her husband is disabled from a work injury damaged his spine.

Camille Garcia, spokeswoman for the Insurance Council of Texas, an industry association, said that even though home insurance is required only when there’s a mortgage, homeowners shouldn’t forgo coverage.

She recommends that homeowners compare quotes from multiple companies rather than settle for their first estimate.

“Don’t choose a policy only because it’s cheap, because maybe that policy doesn’t cover what you want,” she said.

Most policies cover some additional costs, including temporary housing, home reconstruction, clothing, furniture and other personal items, she said.

Homeowners can ask insurance agents about discounts. According to the Texas Department of Insurance website, you can get a discount if you have:

  • An anti-theft alarm.
  • A fire alarm or fire sprinkler system.
  • An impact-resistant roof.
  • A newer home or a home in good repair.
  • Other policies with the same insurance company.
  • No new claims for three consecutive years.
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