Photo courtesy of News 12 New Jersey.

We always think, or we always hope, that it will never happen to us. 

But on Saturday, Jan. 20 around 11:28 a.m., I watched my across-the-street neighbor’s home slowly, but quickly disappear into a black smoke fog. 

In 2023, Jersey City was identified as No. 12 out of 150 cities with the highest home fire risk. The study consisted of a survey, conducted by The Hartford, which analyzed individual behaviors that contribute to fire risk and data from the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System. 

According to the Red Cross, December and January are peak months for house fires, and are most common on Saturday and Sunday.

We hear these statistics and—sometimes—still aren’t convinced about the severity of it all.

Around 11:20 a.m., my father went outside to warm his car because we were about to leave, but just moments after he rushed back shouting, “Call 911, there’s a fire.”

I ran outside where my other neighbor, who was also moving her car, was already on the phone trying to get through. My trembling hands and the frigid cold made it difficult to dial 9-1-1; the small fire from the side of the house was intimidating.

The father, who didn’t have time to put on a shirt, tried putting out the fire, but it was already too much. His daughter rushed out in her pajamas, crying, with her two younger siblings as all four of them rushed into the house next to mine for refuge. 

The daughter begged someone to call her mother who was at work. 

My father told me he rung the doorbell of the house beside theirs, to alert them and get them out. The wind was forcing the flames to now hit the next-door house. 

I stood outside, frozen by what I was witnessing and became engulfed by the black smoke, which burnt my eyes and made it hard to breathe. My other neighbor and I connected to 911 around the same time and those few minutes after, waiting for them to arrive, felt like a lifetime. 

In reality, it was probably less than 10 minutes. About two or three trucks and dozens of firefighters were the first to crowd my dead-end block and what I once saw as a small blaze had now devoured the inside of the house, the sides of it and their backyard garage. 

This home was their home for years—at the very least six years—where I always heard the kids screaming and laughing. In the summer, they and the other neighborhood kids flooded the street with bikes and scooters. The eldest daughter would sit on the steps, yell my name and smile when I waved back. She did this all six years and in different forms depending on the season.

On Saturday, I was forced to see her in tears as she watched her home crumble. Forced to see the owner of the next-door house rush frantically from work, only to be met with flames burning the side of his home. Forced to see Channel 4, ABC News, NJ News 12 and all other media publications record my neighbors’ tragedy. 

According to the GoFundMe page, the fire started from a heater, but officials say the cause remains under investigation. Nothing was salvageable. 

The donation goal is $15,000, which will go towards day-to-day living costs as well as furniture and other supplies needed; it has raised $1,395 so far. Any donation of any kind would go a long way or, if you’re not able to, sharing would also help tremendously.

I am asking for anything to help her alleviate the burden because I know that she won’t ask and I’m a true believer in it taking a village to bounce back from horrible situations like this,” Diandra Denizad, sister of the mother, wrote. 

“Anything is appreciated, including prayer, we know times are hard.” 

For more on what to do/how you can help after a home fire, click here.

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