- August 28, 2019
From the outside, almost everything looked normal.
But, when you looked hard enough, you could see smoke beginning to curl out from the top of the chimney.
Soon, there was no mistaking it: The teal house in the Frisco Bay community was on fire.
The owners, Ralph and Mariana De Bierre, along with their with their Australian Shepherd, Hazel, had taken a quick trip to McDonalds in the early evening hours of Sunday, Jan. 30.
When they returned, they noticed movement from their neighbors first. Then, they saw the smoke.
Ralph parked and ran to the dark blue door before telling his wife to call 911.
“When I opened the door, the first thing I thought was, ‘Thank God I took the dog with me. Thank God my wife and baby are safe.’”
The dark black smoke billowed from the house. Ralph said he couldn’t see an inch in front of him.
He turned the power to the house off and connected with the operator as he ran around the back to grab the hose.
The operator tried to calm him down and told him not to do anything, but Ralph's survival skills kicked in as he reached his arm around from the back of the patio to try and quench some of the indoor flames with the hose.
“I saw the fire just taking over, and it was going fast, so I tried to just put out what I could,” he said.
Mariana, who is five months pregnant, said she was terrified as she watched from the outside.
“I thought the whole house had burned down at that point,” she said. “I was crying and trying to talk to Ralph to get him to come out.”
The patio door was completely gone as the flames licked up to the ceiling and over the floor. The wall began to crack and puff.
The fire department arrived and took over about 10 minutes later.
The couple said the department climbed onto the roof to try to put out the fire. Firefighters started to break the ceiling, gutting out what they could to try and stop the eager flames.
Ralph said if the department had taken another 15 minutes, the whole house would have been engulfed.
“I consider ourselves super lucky for a lot of reasons,” Ralph said. “We are all alive, safe and no harm was done other than material damage. We are also glad that the fire department came in time and were able to put out the fire in time. If it (weren’t) for them, we would probably lose everything.”
The couple said they were scared at that moment, not knowing what was left or what was gone.
“Coming in and seeing the aftermath was devastating,” Ralph said. “It looked like a war zone.”
Ralph has owned the house at 7602 Treasure Island Court for about five years.
Mariana had just recently moved from Brazil with him in July 2021.
When the couple realized Mariana was pregnant, they began remodeling the house.
The De Bierres had just finished the living room, adding on new curtains and a couch, as well as the nursery.
“We were excited just getting the house the way we wanted it, and then this just happened,” Ralph said. “I was not expecting this at all.”
Ralph said he had just paid off the house and other debt, so he chose to drop the insurance.
Never did he think a moment would come where he would desperately need it.
The couple woke the morning of the fire and decided to start the fireplace, which they had been enjoying over the last few days to ward off the cooler weather. The house grew warmer, but the De Bierres thought it was because of the fireplace.
“We didn't realize there was a fire; we just thought it was because the fireplace was going for so long,” Ralph said. “Then we saw the smoke on the chimney as we were heading out, but we thought it was normal, because chimneys typically smoke.”
The fire department and the couple are currently unsure of exactly how the fire started.
Ralph said the fireplace has a crack on it, although they are unsure if it was there before or after the department began breaking the walls, that could have caused the fire to escape. He said it’s also possible the metal chimney tubes could have failed by getting loose or rusty.
“We live in Florida so we don’t use our fireplace very often,” Ralph said. “We don’t maintain it as it should be maintained, to be honest, I didn’t do super regular maintenance on this fireplace besides when we were preparing to use it.”
To prevent other neighbors from having the same issues, Ralph said people should check their chimney and do regular maintenance. Check for build-up of soot and ash, check for cracks in the bricks, and close the damper when the chimney is not being used.
RISING FROM THE ASHES
Although the couple is now back home after staying at a friend's house for the past few weeks, the experience has taken a toll on the family.
“We’re spending money that we don’t have at this point to be able to come back home,” Ralph said. “Not even to make it pretty, but just to come back home and move on with our lives. because right now, everything has just been upside-down.”
The De Bierres are paying for the damage entirely out of pocket, although many organizations automatically assume the couple has insurance. The complete rebuild will take months.
“We are depending a lot on other people’s good will to help us save some money when it comes to rebuilding,” Ralph said.
With emergency cleaning services, contractors, painting and more, the couple is looking at more than $30,000 in repairs. He said many of the people worked with him to lower costs.
“I am super happy that there are still people with good hearts in this world,” Ralph said.
The couple said they are grateful but exhausted.
“It’s just a moment that we are going through, it’s not our whole lives,” Mariana said. “Once this passes, it’ll just be another story for us to tell.”