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Fire at refuge for deaf claims a fourth victim

Fire at refuge for deaf claims a fourth victim

12/10/2006

Lomi Kriel
Express-News

A West Side house fire early Friday that killed three people claimed a fourth victim Saturday, a 48-year-old deaf grandmother who had opened her home to friends when they needed a place to stay.
The death of Rosa Bustos makes the fire in the 7200 block of Westshire Drive the city’s deadliest in the past eight years, according to fire officials.

Bustos, who retired from her secretarial job at USAA recently, died from smoke inhalation at Brooke Army Medical Center.

On Friday, her 5-year-old granddaughter Samantha Medina and Bustos’ two friends, sisters Olga and Yolanda Gonzalez, who were also deaf, died in the fire.

The fire was the fourth fatal house fire over the past month and pushed the number of fire-related deaths to 17 this year — 13 died in homes without smoke detectors, District Fire Chief Randy Jenkins said.

It also mirrored the Thanksgiving fire that claimed the lives of former state Sen. Frank Madla, his 81-year-old mother-in-law and his 5-year-old granddaughter.

Standing apart from Rosa’s large family, her husband, Julio, who is also deaf, stared Saturday afternoon at the charred remains of what had been his home.

“I have nothing,” his stepson, 21-year-old Fernando Ramirez interpreted. “It’s hard for me to breathe.”

Julio Bustos said that he, his wife and their granddaughter were asleep in their bedroom when Samantha awoke to dogs barking. Waking her grandparents, the three tried to escape the house but when Julio Bustos reached the front door, the other two had collapsed inside.

“He thought she was behind him,” Ramirez said. “But they got stuck.”

Ramirez, who also lives at the home, was working an overnight shift loading equipment. His girlfriend, 20-year-old Concepcion Garza, also managed to flee the house.

“I wish I would have been here,” Ramirez said, looking wan as he stood in their yard. “But then, sometimes, I wish I wasn’t here because then I would have died too.”

Officials have not determined the cause of the fire, but know it started in the kitchen, possibly sparked by a space heater.

The deaths wracked Bustos’ family, who gathered in the yard to mourn and light candles next to the framed pictures of their loved ones. Samantha was her family’s pride and joy, a bright and cheerful little girl who loved to dance and play with her Bratz dolls and was always the apple of her grandmother’s eye.

Her death also was eerily timed, her family said, because the girl recently had peppered them with questions about God.

“She loved God and wanted to meet him, but we told her it wasn’t time yet,” said her uncle, 35-year-old A.J. Lopez. “For a 5-year-old girl to say that, it’s like she knew.”

Maria Rodriguez, a friend and neighbor, said she had known the Bustos family for 30 years and had often babysat Bustos’ children when she had to go to work. Although Rodriguez, 66, doesn’t know sign language, she said Bustos was an excellent lip reader and the two soon became close.

“She was a real good lady,” Rodriguez said. “I just can’t believe what happened.”

Jenkins, the fire chief, stressed the importance of smoke detectors in preventing fire deaths.

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http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA121006.04B.deadliest_fire.3087a28.html

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