Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
A home that caught fire in Southwest Albuquerque late Tuesday, killing two people and injuring a third, was a boarding home for men dealing with mental health issues, according to the owner of the residence.
Firefighters pulled two bodies from the burning house, and the condition of the third victim – who was taken to University of New Mexico Hospital – was unknown Wednesday night.
The fire broke out inside the single-family home in the 200 block of 59th SW, near Central and Lucca. The cause is under investigation.
A longtime neighbor said the home in recent years had turned into a “dump,” but the homeowner said it was “up to code” and “well-kept.”
Albuquerque Fire Rescue said firefighters were dispatched to the home shortly after 11:30 p.m. and were told there were “possible trapped victims.”
“Crews from station 7 arrived on scene within minutes of being dispatched, and reported smoke and flames,” AFR said in a news release. “Two victims were removed from the structure and were DOA (dead on arrival).”
The third victim was taken to the hospital by AFR.
After firefighters made sure there were no other victims in the house, they were able to extinguish the fire. The names, ages and gender of the victims have not been released.
Tom Ruiz, an AFR spokesman, said he didn’t know the condition of the third victim.
Teresa Villar, the homeowner, told the Journal on Wednesday that she rents the house to a woman who runs a boarding home for men dealing with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.
Villar declined to identify the woman or say whether she worked for an agency but said at least six men live in the five-bedroom house under the woman’s care.
“It’s people that take care of people,” Villar said. “… She provides breakfast, lunch and dinner, and she cleans for them and she gives them medication.”
Although the men living there are not required to be under watch for 24 hours, she said they are supposed to go to bed after dinner around 9 p.m. Villar said they don’t yet know the cause of the fire.
Longtime neighbor Betty Tena said she hopes the building is torn down.
“It’s not a good place,” she said. “I wouldn’t want any relative or friend of mine living there.”
Tena said the home was a regular residence until six years ago. That’s when it turned “from a real nice place to a dump.”
Tena said she befriended a Vietnam veteran in his 70s, whom she fondly referred to as “Uncle Sam” because of his cane and long white beard, who lived there.
He was always complaining that the other men were taking his food and would go into his room, she said.
“I went one time to take him a 12-pack of Pepsi, and that place was like a dump in there. Awful, awful,” Tena said.
She said she would lend the man money for food from time to time and felt sorry for him, but didn’t pay much attention to the others. She said that at some point, it looked like some of the men were living in mobile homes in the backyard.
Tena said sometimes she would see a nicely dressed woman park across the street before going into the home. Uncle Sam moved out in the past few months, toting a suitcase down the street. Tena didn’t ask where he was going, but she was happy he left, especially after the fire broke out.
“It was bound to happen because of the state of that house,” Tena said.
For 35 years, Tena said she has a nightly ritual: say a prayer at the last siren she hears before falling asleep.
“But last night, I couldn’t sleep,” she said.
Soon red and blue lights filtered into her home from the bedroom window. Tena got up to see police vehicles, firetrucks and ambulances lining the block. Across the street, smoke poured from the green home with yellow trim.
“It’s like everything else: It always takes a tragedy to find something out,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s what happened there.”
The smell of smoke still hung over the neighborhood around 1:45 a.m. Wednesday as two bodies draped in white sheets were visible in the front yard of the residence.
Later that morning, three women who identified themselves as caseworkers stopped by to find out what happened and check on the safety of their clients. One woman was comforted by arson investigators. It’s unclear where the remaining clients ended up.
The windows of the home were charred, and the front door was open, revealing a blackened and burned entryway. Arson investigators were at the scene all day Wednesday, taking photos and collecting evidence throughout the home.