Michelle Segura was awakened Dec. 20 by her 4-month-old kitten, who was meowing and hissing in her face.
Segura sat up in bed and immediately began coughing. She had risen into a thick layer of smoke. Her mobile home, at 916 S. Florida Ave. in DeLand, was on fire.
In a panic, Segura rushed outside, only to see that the entire bottom of the trailer was in flames. Her first thought was of the suitcase full of irreplaceable pictures she kept tucked behind a couch, but when she rushed back in, she couldn’t get it.
Segura looked for the kitten, and couldn’t find her. She ran out of the house in panic and shock.
“I was trying to call 911, and I forgot how to call 911,” Segura said. “They were like, call 911, and I was like, I can’t. I don’t know what I am doing. I heard my little dog barking, so I ran back inside the house, grabbed my dog, and came back out.”
When neighbors asked if there was anyone else inside, she said no. Her first thought was for her children, three of whom live with her. Segura had dropped them at their father’s house the night before. She was glad they weren’t home.
“They would be dead. They would not have made it out alive,” she said.
Segura’s two-bedroom mobile home is divided by a locked door, so the back half can be sublet to others.
Concerned about her children and shocked by the fire, she had forgotten about her roommates.
Luckily, neighbors broke out the back window, and pulled out her roommate and his girlfriend. Both were treated onsite by emergency personnel and released.
“I felt so bad, because I couldn’t remember. I was stuck,” Segura said.
Her home, and most of the possessions inside, were destroyed.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world to just lose everything. Pictures I can’t replace. My dad — his [urn of] ashes burned. My mom’s pictures; she’s dead. We have nothing. I ran out in the clothes I had on,” Segura said.
Segura was already on financial thin ice. She has been cleaning houses since 1999, but COVID-19 had all but dried up her business.
Her kids had the one change of clothes they had taken to their father’s. She had none other than what she was wearing.
Birthday and Christmas presents for her children were all gone.
The American Red Cross gave Segura and her family $800 and a voucher for a couple of days at a hotel.
Initially, she said, she thought to put the money toward a new trailer.
“I can’t afford to buy things I don’t need,” Segura said. “Staying in a hotel when I can go buy a mobile home with it and just put it on my property may not be the best thing, but it’d be a roof over my kids’ heads.”
There was a trailer for sale for $1,000, but the sellers never got back to her. By Christmas Eve, the $800 had been whittled down to $48, as Segura had to replace everything she owned and take care of her children and her pets.
“I bought clothes, dog food, I bought us food — and I have boys, and they eat like horses,” Segura said.
Segura has five children; the three boys who live with her most of the time are 18, 15 and 14.
“I’m trying to figure it out, but it’s so hard to figure out where to start,” Segura said. “I have to focus on the everyday ... where I am going to sleep.”
After one night in a hotel courtesy of the Red Cross, Segura has been staying with friends, and even friends of friends — people she doesn’t really know. She doesn’t own a car.
“I literally cried so much I can’t even cry, but it’s like I’m crying inside. I keep gasping for air, and sometimes I feel like I am suffocating. I just feel like I’m out here by myself. And my kids, I feel like I let them down because they lost everything, too,” Segura said.
Her 14-year-old son’s birthday was Dec. 23. His presents, Segura’s purse — all of it burned.
Describing what happened, Segura was calm, but thinking of the impact of the fire on her children, she broke down.
“On Christmas, my kids had no Christmas presents because they were burned. They told me, ‘Mom, I don’t care.’ I said, I know you don’t care, but it hurts me because I love you and we try and we struggle together. We don’t have a lot but we're not selfish; we’re not greedy,” Segura said.
She falls back on her faith.
“I don’t expect anyone to help me. I know eventually I’ll figure something out. It doesn’t matter how hard it is, I'll do whatever I have to do to make sure my kids have something. Even if it takes me a long time, I’ll still do and try. I don’t give up. Even though I feel like I want to give up — God doesn’t want me to, and I know that,” she said.
Segura continued, “People today, they don’t appreciate life, they don’t appreciate their neighbor, they don’t appreciate being able to get up every morning, be thankful they have a job, and their kids are OK. People take it for granted.”
The family’s mobile home wasn’t much, but it was their home.
“And the trailer, it might have been junk, or it looked like junk, but it was a roof over my kids’ head. It was clean. We’re not rich, but we’re rich with God, and we were happy just with the little things we had, and we appreciated it,” Segura said.
Every day, Segura visits the site of the burned trailer, trying to salvage what she can.
“Honestly, I’m trying to find my cat. I’m trying to find her bones, just so I can bury her and give her a little bit of peace, because she did save my life. And I don’t know if I’ll find her, because there is a lot. A lot to go through,” Segura said. “My hands are still black — I can’t even wash them clean. They’re stained.”