Rogelio Hernandez and his wife, Zulema, began building their life together when they were teenagers in high school.
For nearly a decade, Rogelio, 29, who works as a server at Denny’s, has been paying for a small plot of land in western Hidalgo County where the couple lived in a trailer with their four children and with their beloved pets, four schnauzers and three pigs.
“I know that this is not a mansion or anything, but this is what I had for my family and I was happy. This was my kingdom,” Rogelio said. “I didn’t ask for much. I had what we needed: a roof, food to eat and us together. That’s all that mattered for me.”
On July 22, all of that work burned to the ground in a matter of minutes.
“I remember it clearly like it was yesterday, a nightmare I will never forget,” Rogelio said last Friday, while standing on the blackened ground where his home once stood.
The blaze ignited just before 4 p.m. that day. Rogelio had just finished his shift and had barely gotten home, looking forward to a bit of relaxation after a long day of work.
Just as he was about to sit down on the couch, Zulema, 34, who was doing laundry, called out to him, telling Rogelio that she smelled something burning.
“We had the laundry, the dryer, and the washer together. So I went to check, and on the back of the washer and dryer, I saw like little balls of flames in the back of the dryer,” Rogelio said, while standing on a piece of blackened ground where his laundry room used to be.
When he went into the restroom behind the laundry room, he saw the walls bubbling from the heat of the fire.
“So I screamed to my wife, ‘get out! get out!,’” Rogelio said, adding he went hysterical. “I told her to get everybody out of the house and sure enough, she got all the kids out.”
Not even two minutes after clearing the trailer, his oldest daughter told him two of their dogs, Cookie and Oreo, were still inside.
“By the time I went back, five minutes had passed,” Rogelio said. “All the top part from the trailer had already fallen and I couldn’t get my dogs out. I could hear them. They were like moaning, but I couldn’t get them out.”
Sometime after the fire, another one of their dogs also died, from what Rogelio thinks was a broken heart.
Since the blaze, Rogelio, Zulema and their four children ages 11, 12, 14, and 16, have been living at Rogelio’s mother’s house.
“It’s not only us, we have other people living there and it gets crowded sometimes,” he said.
He’s also helping his mother out with the bills at the house.
“I just, right now, I can’t make enough to save. I’m staying over there so it’s like I have to pay the bills over there too,” Rogelio said. “That’s the only thing, but I’m already looking for another job as well. Whatever there is to be done, I would do it.”
Rogelio is still also paying off the land where his trailer used to be, as well as paying the water bill at the property.
“I’m still paying for it. With a lot of sacrifices, with the foot of my paw, I’ve been working since I was in high school to try to give my family what I didn’t have, something stable,” he said.
And in between working and taking care of his family, Rogelio has also been working to clear the lot of the debris from the fire. With a little help from family and friends, he’s nearly done.
Rebuilding is foremost in Rogelio’s mind because giving his children what they need is of the utmost importance to him.
“Like I tell you, I never had a dad. He abandoned me when I was two years old and ever since then, me growing up, I always saw a lot of kids with their dads and going to games and I never had a dad there,” Rogelio said.
His mom was a single mom and he was the oldest of five kids.
“So, growing up I know how it is to have just one pair of shoes the whole year and stuff like that, so me, now that I have my kids, I don’t want them to ever go through what I went through,” he said. “So as long as I’m here, I’m going to make sure that I’m going to work hard for them to have everything they need.”
Right now, their needs are great.
On a bright note, Rogelio said the mayor of Palmview donated a trailer to his family. That trailer is not livable yet and needs repairs before the family can move back to the property.
He also needs help furnishing the house.
“I have nothing,” he said. “I had everything. I lost everything.”
And before the fire, he was saving up for a bigger vehicle. As their kids have grown, it’s nearly impossible to fit all of them inside his vehicle, which Rogelio says is also becoming unreliable.
However, despite his hardships and setbacks, Rogelio knows he has the one thing he can’t live without.
“All I have is my family and that’s it, but I’m good with that,” he said.
For information on how you can donate to Rogelio’s family, call the United Way of South Texas at (956) 686-6331, between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and inquire about contributing to The Monitor’s Spirit of Christmas campaign.
All donations go to the family. United Way does not keep any of the proceeds donated.