Arson victim speaks out
Wendy Lacey had risen from bed at about 3 a.m. Wednesday to go to the bathroom when she smelled and saw smoke curling through her home.
Just hours earlier, she'd had firefighters at her home to put out flames that had damaged a fence, picnic table and wheelbarrow in her backyard. Firefighters say it was intentionally set. This was a new fire, and the experts concluded that this was no accident, either.
This time, the flames were on the structure, not yet in the living quarters, but biting into the garage and moving fast.
Flames, heat and smoke, water and soot badly damaged the contents of the garage, claiming Lacey's washer and dryer, the tires off her husband's motorcycle and their youngest's bicycle, and personal belongings like clothing, photos, a wedding gown that had been in Lacey's family for generations, a collection of souvenirs from her husband's Army career, and even the prom dress her older daughter, Lauren, had just gotten in the mail.
Firefighters were able to limit the second fire's spread, but the damage it did cause was plenty for Lacey, her husband and her girls.
Lacey said her family is just getting by and doing the best they can. Her husband works nights as an emergency medical technician. She was laid off last March from her job as an administrative assistant and after several months decided to take out loans and go back to school to improve her odds of finding work. Lauren, 18, has a chronic, incurable lung disease that racks her body with coughs and leaves her vulnerable to severe infections. Lacey said her illness requires expensive treatments that can be difficult to afford – she exhausted her insurance benefits last year in September and the rest of her care through the year had to come out of pocket.
“We've got $6.34 in our bank account,” Lacey said Thursday.
Lauren wants to work but can't because she's often sick. The Cibola senior saved up birthday and Christmas money to buy her dress. She hasn't had as many of the high school experiences as her peers, again because of her illness.
“She saved and saved and saved and saved for her first prom dress, and now it's been destroyed,” Lacey said.
The first fire happened at about 10 p.m. on Tuesday, doing little damage to the house on the 2200 block of West 18th Street. The Yuma Fire Department said it was intentionally set though; Lacey said firefighters told her they smelled lighter fluid, and that the second blaze coming within hours was very suspicious – and at that hour, meant to do real harm.
Lacey got Lauren and their dogs outside, where responders quickly met them (the younger child, Lacey's stepdaughter, was at her mother's that night). The smoke gave Lauren an asthma attack. She already has a serious lung disease called bronchiectasis, which is caused by mucus blockages that she can't clear on her own.
Perhaps faring worse that night, though, was Lacey, who had not only breathed in smoke but who was riding a severe anxiety attack. Her heart rate and blood pressure shot so high that paramedics took her to the hospital because they feared she would have a heart attack.
Then, early Friday morning, there was a third fire, which was found around 5:30 a.m. outside a bedroom window. Lacey kept it contained with a garden hose until firefighters came.
Lacey, who is now out of the hospital, is exhausted. The girls are away in safe locations for now. She and her husband are still in their home, which is structurally sound except for a den just off the garage, because they have nowhere else to go and because they want to take a stand.
“This is our home and I am not going to live in fear in my own home,” she said.
“I'm not going to allow them to put that fear in me.”
The home's owner had insured the house but the family didn't have renter's insurance because they didn't think they'd need it. Not that it matters for many of the lost items, which were irreplaceable, Lacey said.
“It's been pretty devastating, to say the least,” she said.
There's a relief fund open now at Navy Federal Credit Union. Donors can give to the Lacey Family Fund. Lacey said that 2 percent of every donation will be given back to firefighters for their charity work with burned children. She said authorities, neighbors and her landlord have been so supportive she wants to give back.
More than money or material things, she said she wants somebody with information on the arsons to call police and help them break the case.
Once the fire department determined that the fires were the result of arson, Yuma police took over investigations.
Hillary Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6857. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSHillaryDavis or on Twitter at @YSHillaryDavis.