Assistant fire chief loses father, home in Austwell fire (video)
Jennifer Lee Preyss
June 2, 2013 at 1:02 a.m.
Updated June 3, 2013 at 1:03 a.m.
AUSTWELL - Behind the Martinez family home on Main Street, Petey, a pitbull puppy, and Hammerhead, an older terrier mix, hid beneath a children's slide in the backyard.
About three-fourths of the Martinez home, especially from Petey's backyard view, was burned to ash.
Although tired and spotted with blood blisters, Hammerhead was lucky.
When Austwell firefighters arrived on scene about 10:40 p.m. Saturday, Hammerhead was trapped inside the house. He escaped the flames when firefighters opened the back door, and he fled as quickly as his frail body would allow. He didn't return until morning.
The home's owner, Lupe Martinez, 84, and his two other dogs, Maggie and Isabella, didn't make it out alive. Martinez was home alone at the time of the fire.
He was pronounced dead at the scene by Refugio Precinct 1 Judge Lorraine Lopez and taken to the Travis County medical examiner for an autopsy.
The home also belonged to Austwell Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Ismael Martinez, who had lived in the home his entire life with his father.
The elder Martinez gave the home to his son a few years ago for the younger Martinez's family - his wife, Karen Williams, and their two children, Audrey, 8, and 7-month-old Mason - to live in long after he was gone.
Williams said they were in the process of securing home insurance but had not completed the process before the fire.
"That's what's even worse about this. Everything we lost can't be replaced," she said.
She said she knows the family will start over from scratch, but she's sad her children have lost time with their grandfather.
The couple was out on a date night when the fire erupted. The children were with friends, Williams said.
A neighbor reported the fire. Austwell Fire Chief Rick Loughman called his assistant to tell him of the blaze.
"It was kind of a shock. We never expected in a million years that our family would go through something like this," Williams said. "It's devastating to lose Lupe this way. He loved his family and would give his shirt off his back for anyone."
Williams said the elder Martinez was a loving father and grandfather and loved his animals.
"He was always a hard worker and just did anything he could to help anyone," she said.
The Austwell fire chief said Refugio, Tivoli and Austwell fire departments responded to the fire and extinguished the flames about 3 a.m. Sunday.
More than 18 volunteer firefighters were on scene, and at least two remained until 11 a.m. Sunday. Members of the immediate community also showed up throughout the night to pass out water and show support for the family, said Courtney Lenhart, a family friend.
"The entire community was probably out there last night," she said.
The Martinez family home is a total loss, Loughman said. The cause is still under investigation.
The Martinezes will temporarily lodge with family friends Jared and Courtney Lenhart and have the option to move into a borrowed recreational vehicle until they find permanent residence elsewhere.
Williams said she appreciated the support of the community that already has made generous donations of baby items, clothes, toys and money.
An account will be set up at the Port Lavaca Capital One Bank on Monday for anyone interested in making additional donations.
"We're so sad about Lupe, but we're glad our children are safe. We have to be there for them and be strong for them now," Williams said. "All I really care about is that my kids are dressed and have what they need."
Funeral arrangements for Lupe Martinez have not yet been scheduled.