Operation Esperanza - Zuniga Fire

Family Home Badly Damaged (Summary)
This house belongs to the Zuniga family and was badly damaged in a fire which destroyed their attic and second floor in the early morning of October 26th, 2017. Due to financial constraints, the family did not have insurance on the home when the fire occurred. The home can no longer be occupied in its current state and has left Amos (father), Cecilia (mother) and their five children (girls Alycia (9), Tirza (12), and boys Nathan (8), Amos Jr. (11), and Asael (14)) without a home until clean-up and repairs are made. The Zuniga family settled in Winnipeg several decades ago and have spent their time as proud Winnipegers giving back to their community at every opportunity.

I am with the North End Community Renewal Corporation (NECRC, non-profit charity) and have been working with the Zuniga family, the Dufferin Residents Association (non-profit) and friends of the the family. We have created this fundraiser with the permission of the family and are referring to it as 'Operation Esperanza' which means the Project of Hope.

As the Zunigas have given so much through their church (supporting events, hosting meetings in their home) and their area residents' association (sitting as Board members, volunteering to support community events such as BBQs and clean-ups) we are hoping that the community can show them some support now when they need it most and help them rebuild their lives in the face of this disaster.

All proceeds will be used by the Zunigas in repairing their home and covering costs of temporary housing until they can return home, and replacing lost possesions once they are back in thier house where they belong. Funds raised will be transferred directly from Go Fund Me to the family and no monies raised will be used by us or partner orgs.

As we gather hard copies of contractor estimates we will post them in the updates section to ensure as much transparency as possible and we will be monitoring expenses as a team comprised of Amos and Cecilia, NECRC rep, DRAW rep, and long-time family friend, Mohammed Rezai. We will ensure funds will only be used towards costs resulting from this fire (including fees for Go Fund Me).

As this disaster has just occurred, supporters are still in the midst of gathering estimates. We have set the fundraising goal of $35,000 based on the following initial estimates:
- Roof: $6-7,000 for materials and labour
- Framing (beams, trusses, structural) as the fire had begun to work its way down a section of wall, we are still working on determining how severe the structural damage is to the building, but we do believe it is saveable and not a tear-down; cost of engineers' inspection and reports could be approx. $3-4,000
- Electrical repairs: $5,000 minimum
- Clean-up/removal: garbage bin rental and dumping fees approx. $1,000; labour: a crew of 3 workers for 10-15 days approx. $3-4000
- Restoration of walls: Estimated at 200 sheets drywall at $10/sheet: $2,000, labour for taping, mudding and sanding: $8,000
- Painting: $3-4,000 for labour and materials
- Insulation: $200/100 sq. ft. at 1200 sq. ft: $2,400
- Carpets/flooring: Replaced with modest laminate, $4/sq. ft: $4,800
- Temporary Housing: Currently, the Zunigas entire family of 7 are staying in a 1 bedroom apartment until better accomodations can be made. While contractor availability and access to funds will impact speed of restoration, assuming a 4-5 month project timeline, minimum adequate housing would cost $1,000-$1,100/month: $5,000-$5,500 + utilities at $200/month ($1,000): $6-6,500
- While an early estimate, likely minimum of $1,000 in permit fees

Totals: Minimum-Maximum Projection: $45,200-$49,700 not including structural costs if walls are too compromised

- While the goal is to work with the City to get some power restored so heat can be restored, there is a chance that weather will turn freezing prior to this occurring which could result in water/cold damage to plumbing (although lines have been drained to mitigate this)
- Recovery of material possessions: we don't have detailed costs assessed for this yet, but it is expected that appliances, couches, tables, mattresses, will need replacement and furnace and hotwater tank still need to be verified as operational. 
We are asking for less than the min-max projection as the Province of Manitoba has indicated they may support the project with $5,000 through the Manitoba Emergency Repair Program (application pending).

Our heartfelt thanks go out to these amazing early supporters!

Additionally, the Zunigas are hoping that someone may be willing to take in their two beautiful dogs, Tulip (Shelty mix) and Rusty (Chuahua-Daschund mix) until they are living somewhere that allow dogs.

Special thanks to Mohammed Rezai, family friend of 30+ years, who has done an amazing job of gathering friends and supporters for the Zunigas and is working hard to support the clean-up and establish a plan for repairs. The family would be grateful for any support as soon as possible, and any sized donation would go a long way to getting them back into their home.

 Please check back to this page for regular updates, and keep reading for more details on the background of this fire.  

Tragedy Strikes

At around 5:00am on the morning of Thursday, October 26th, 9 year old Alycia Zuniga was awoken by plaster crumbs falling onto her bed as a thin crack formed on the ceiling above her. Unsure of what was happening, young Alycia secured the safety of her family by immediately waking her father Amos and mother Cecilia.

Upon examination, Amos was alarmed to notice flames dancing in the attic behind the small crack. As the fear of losing everything he and Cecilia had worked so hard to provide for their family took hold, Amos desperately tried to throw buckets of water at the fire.

Confused by the absence of smoke in the house,  Amos recognized that his efforts were not working and immediately evacuated his family into the cold Winnipeg night. Sadly, this was not a fire that could be extinguished with a bucket and the close-knit family huddled together watching the fire consume their North End home in shock as they waited for emergency responders. 

The Fire

The fire started in the attic and appears to be due to faulty wiring. While the home was equiped with appropriate fire alarms, no sirens sounded to alert the sleeping family to the growing fire. As the smoke was contained to, and likely vented out of,  the attic, it did not reach the alarms. There is no doubt that this fire could have had far more tragic consequences had young Alycia not woken up and roused the family.

Amos and Cecilia are grateful to the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Services (WFPS) for the valiant efforts extinguishing the fire and providing comfort to their family. The WFPS managed to contain the fire to the roof and attic, but the fire had begun to spread down a section of wall requiring a large volume of water to ensure the fire was out.

While this could have gone worse had the WFPS not contained the fire, the home has sustained extensive fire and water damage. The roof and framing of the attic were completely destroyed. Water damage brought down ceilings and damaged walls throughout the main and second floor of the home and soot, ashes and insulation were spread throughout the home damaging carpets and floors. Innitial estimates indicated damages to be in the range of $50,000 to $100,000 not including the loss of possesions (beds, furniture, electronics, appliances, etc.).

The family would also like to thank the Red Cross who responded quickly with supports and provided emergency funds for food, clothing and hotel for 3 nights while the Zunigas struggle to figure out how to move forward.

No House Insurance

The Zuniga's purchased their home  in 2003 and like many families buying homes in Winnipeg's inner-city, struggled to make ends meet. In 2014, with Cecilia taking care of the five children and the family living on Amos's modest income, their roof began to leak.

Without the finances to fix the roof, they struggled to deal with the issue as their plaster and drywall was damaged and black mould formed in their bedrooms. The family would like to thank the Province of Manitoba for coming to their aid in 2015 when they were approved to access the Homeowner Renovation Assistance Program (HRAP) . Through the HRAP program, they were able to replace their roof, repair their walls and ceilings and get rid of the mould that had them worried for their young children. 

As part of the HRAP program, the Zuniga's home was inspected by Provincial housing inspectors who identify critical issues that need repair through the program. With HRAP complete, the Zuniga's felt like they finally had some security and that they didn't need to worry as much about things falling apart.

Unfortunately, electrical was never identified as a critical repair issue. This is not due to any short-coming of the Provincial Inspector, but rather a spotlight on the difficulty of identifying such issues. Inspections are non-invasive, inspectors do not tear down drywall or plaster in walls or ceilings and can only identify what they can see. The visible electrical indicated that it was upgraded with old knob  and tube wiring removed. Now it looks like there was knob and tube wiring mixed with new wiring in the attic which resulted in the fire.

At the time, living on one small income, Amos and Cecilia made the difficult decision faced by many lower-income families that they could not maintain their  home insurance and provide for their children. They viewed it as a temporary setback and kept working hard to improve their situation.

Now, Amos and Cecilia are both working and bringing in a modest income to provide for their family. Having just renewed their mortgage, they were close to succeeding in their plan to re-insure their home when the fire struck. 

Special Thanks
In addition to Mohammed Rezai, the WFPS and the Red Cross, the Zunigas would like to thank the following people/groups for their support after the fire:

-Derek and Sean from Habitat for Humanity's Habitat Handyman program. Right after the fire Habitat Handyman visited the house to evaluate the damage and support the family by placing tarps over the holes in the roof to limit further damage from weather.

-The Dufferin Residents' Association of Winnipeg for the wonderful moral support and help with organizing.

-All of you who are taking the time to read and share this fundraiser! Financial support is critical and our gratitude goes out to everyone for supporting this recovery effort!

-Stay tuned to this page for regular updates as work moves forward.
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Organizer and beneficiary

Dale Harik 
Winnipeg, MB
Amos Zuniga 
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