A Mount Hope family struck by tragedy got a chance at a fresh start Saturday. Juanita Vasquez and her three children returned to their home.
In November of 2015, a fire ripped through their home on J street. Three of her children were inside at the time. Responding firefighters tried to pull them to safety. Esmeralda and Luis, called Junior, were pulled to safety. Rescue workers were unable to save Vasquez's oldest son, Fernando.
Saturday, two of the responding firefighters were on hand to welcome the family.
"When I walked in there I kind of had that feeling of this is where I was that night. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up," said fire engineer Joe Zakar. "You get those goose bumps. It's just one of those feelings. This room's familiar to me."
The family’s insurance helped rebuild the house. Non-profits and about 30 volunteers stepped up to help furnish it. Jeanne met Juanita at the UCSD Burn Unit.
"This is a unique environment for us to be able to see this family's worst day," said fire engineer Dallas Higgins. "Now a year-and-a-half later, to watch them circle and have this amazing restart to their lives."
The family still has a battle ahead. Esme is recovering from burns on 60 percent of her body. Junior had burns on 90 percent of his. He will start his reconstructive surgery next month. Saturday was a big first step. Juanita choose not to leave because this was her parents home. Her family often held gatherings here. Now, they're getting some of that back.
Her sister said, "I always tell people tragedies can either break you apart or bring you together. And that was one of the things that I felt right after the fire. Our family not only got closer, but our family kind of grew."