Fire destroys trailer home of 45 years

By C.J. Barbre

Rita Estrada's parents moved into the old trailer 47 years ago, two years before she was born. Her dad has passed on and her mother has moved, but Rita still shared the home with her son, Carlos. She also sublet half of it to Miguel Rodriguez, 28, and Alejanir Navia, 23.

On Friday morning at about 4:30 a.m. Carlos came home from work, stoked the coals in the fire box of the wood burning stove that was older than the trailer, and went to bed. Sometime before sunup, something went terribly wrong.

"All of a sudden I heard my son calling 'Mama!'" said a sooty Rita Estrada, as she gazed over the ruins of her life from the back of a pickup truck. She sounded numb, like it hadn't all sunk in yet.

Tulare County Battalion Chief Lisa Marrone said the county fire department got the call at 6:15 a.m. this freezing Dec. 3. The trailer became completely engulfed in flames. Fire season isn't just in the hottest summer months. Five engines, including two from TCFD Lindsay and one each from TCFD Strathmore, Exeter and Visalia stations along with one water tender, one overhead and one breathing support system were on the job. Marrone said half the crew were full-time fire fighters and half were volunteer fire fighters.

Over her jacket Marrone wore a vest that said "ACCOUNTABILITY" in block letters. She was looking for the Red Cross to show up. On a legal pad she had the names and ages of the victims. Marrone said the Red Cross would provide vouchers for food, clothing and temporary shelter.

Rita's brother was on hand, trying to sort through the few soggy, sooty possessions that might be salvageable. He said his sister could stay with him and their mom.

Over on the truck bed, Rita said her relationship with her mother was strained. She told Chief Marrone that she would prefer some other solution.

The property owner, Stan Cosart, was on the scene. He said the family was living in the trailer when he bought the property. They had been paying $30 a month rent to the previous owner. Cosart said Rita's father had diabetes and couldn't work. "I

said as long as you keep it clean of cans and bottles, you can rent it for $21 a month." It is that old trailer on Freemont Trail, south of Lindmore Street that almost looked organic, like it was growing out of the ground it had been there so long. It is just a can's throw from Highway 65. The 63-acre parcel is mostly planted in citrus. There is a wonderful old barn a far piece from the house. Cosart preferred having someone on the property, keeping an eye out for vandals and such.

Marrone asked Rita if she had a job. She said part-time, at the Exxon Station. Asked if she was aware of the Lindsay-Strathmore Coordinating Council, she said yes. Of course they would not be open until the following Tuesday, Dec. 7. This is the working poor, the working poor in desperate need. And rents have skyrocketed in the last 45 years.

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