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DREAMS TO ASHES – VOLUNTEER-BUILT HOMES IN GREELEY DESTROYED BY FIRES

DREAMS TO ASHES – VOLUNTEER-BUILT HOMES IN GREELEY DESTROYED BY FIRES

Rocky Mountain News (CO) – Monday, July 19, 2004
Author/Byline: Clayton Woullard , Rocky Mountain News
Edition: Final
Section: News
Page: 5A
The scent of charred wood lingered in the air Sunday where two homes, two dreams, have gone up in flames.

One of those dreams belongs to Valerie Hernandez, who stared in disbelief Sunday afternoon at what was left of her half-finished Habitat for Humanity house.

“How could it give somebody joy or power to do something like this?” asked Hernandez, 35, whose home burned Saturday morning. Investigators suspect arson.

“I just don’t understand it.”

Two houses down the street, a charred frame is all that stands of Tomas Landin’s dream.

The home he said he worked on every day for the past four months burned Tuesday morning, only a month before he was going to move in.

“It made me sick,” said Landin, 44. “When we saw this, my dreams were blown.”

Sylvia Salinas, 30, who knows the Landin family and lives in a house adjacent to their nearly completed home, said she and others in the community feel for the families but are also scared.

“It’s been so painful,” Salinas said. “We’ve felt so scared; we feel so unsafe. I know my house could be the next one.”

The homes, located on Habitat Lane near 16th Avenue and Second Street, are two of 61 homes to be built in Greeley over the next 10 years by Habitat for Humanity. They will provide housing to low-income individuals.

Investigators said they believe the fires may have been caused by a “firebug,” someone who gets pleasure from starting fires, but they did not have any new leads Sunday.

Salinas said one of her neighbors saw a young man running from the burning house on Saturday.

A smaller fire destroyed part of another vacant house being renovated by Greeley Urban Renewal Authority in the 200 block of 17th Avenue on Wednesday morning. Authorities also suspect arson in that case.

“It’s been pretty traumatic,” said Dale Lyman of Union Colony Fire/

Rescue. “There’s so many volunteers that put in so much time and effort just trying to help people that wouldn’t be able to purchase homes on their own.”

Jeff Gale, a Habitat board member and volunteer who has worked on the houses, said he’s angry and a bit scared for the families.

“They just don’t deserve this kind of heartache,” Gale said. “The people that we help are at risk, they’re vulnerable.”

He said this is the first known case of a Habitat house in the United States burned by suspected arson.

“It’s such a shame,” said Hernandez, who helped build her home. “There are so many volunteers that worked on this, and for somebody to destroy their work . . . is just terrible.”

The Weld County Builders Association has come forward to help rebuild the first home and hopes to complete it in six to seven weeks.

Ron Gross, construction manager on the Habitat project, said a local company, J&M Builders, has contacted him about helping rebuild the other Habitat home.

Gale said Habitat will hold a meeting soon for community members to share thoughts and concerns and see where to go from here.

“We’ve got a lot of families to help,” Gale said. “We can’t stand around and think about this for too long.”

Gross said volunteers hope to begin working on the next group of houses as early as September and plan to have nine or 10 homes completed by next June.

“It’s stressful, but we’ll get through it,” Gross said. “Wherever there’s bad, good will come out of it.”

Hernandez is just glad she wasn’t in the house when it caught fire and that her two daughters are safe.

“I’ve got strength from my kids that I can go on,” she said, “and it’s reassuring that there’s other people who can tell me it’s going to be OK.”

INFOBOX

Reward offered

* The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is offering a $5,000 reward to anyone with information that leads to the arrest of a suspect in the Greeley fires. The Arson Hotline phone number is 1-877-89-ARSON.

Memo: Related color photo p.1A
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