MERIDEN — The food was ready, the decorations were up, and Ivonne Ramirez and her family were just waiting for guests to arrive to celebrate her grandchildren’s birthdays when they were forced to evacuate their apartment without coats, and some without shoes.
“I just think about it and I want to cry because you know, we could have died,” said Ramirez, who had lived in the multi-family house with her son, daughter-in-law and their two kids for about three years. “That’s one thing that I thank God, that nobody got injured.”
On Sunday evening, a fire broke out as Ramirez and her family were preparing to celebrate the birthday of her grandson Jaidiss, who turned 6 a day before the second grandson, Kaysen, turned 3.
The police and fire departments, in conjunction with the council of neighborhoods, have planned a clothing and toy drive for the family and a second family from the home later this month. A local dance studio will also hold a birthday party for the boys this weekend.
The city fire marshal ruled the fire an accident, caused by a pot left on the first floor stove. The multiple family home at 55 Wilcox Ave., was deemed uninhabitable and its 14 residents were displaced.
Ramirez’s family, who were living on the second floor, have moved in with Ramirez’s sister in Meriden.
The family was waiting for guests to arrive for the birthday party when they started smelling smoke around 5 p.m. Ramirez said she went into the kitchen and saw smoke coming from the dishwasher— then she noticed the bright red flames.
“And I screamed ‘fire fire’ and we all ran outside,” Ramirez said. “My son outside with no shoes, no coat.” She said neighbors came out and gave them blankets, shoes, and extra clothes for the kids.
“It was a very bad experience,” Ramirez said. “It hasn't been easy.”
Now the family is focused on making sure the kids have some positive memories of their birthdays and don’t just remember the fire.
D’Zire Dance Studio, 491 W. Main St. will hold a birthday party Saturday for the boys, from 4 to 7 p.m. Shandi Rodriguez, the studio’s owner and friend of Piano Nieves, the boys’ father, decided to donate her space for the celebration.
She said the goal is “to actually have a good memory for the young kids… because they didn’t really get to celebrate their birthdays,” Rodriguez said.
She welcomes anyone who wants to donate clothing, gift cards or even services like face painting or baking, to come by the party. The studio will collect donations for the family before and after the celebration as well.
The city police and fire departments, along with the council of neighborhoods and police department Neighborhood Initiative unit have planned a clothing and toy drive for March 24, from 9 a.m. to noon on the Meriden Green.
They hope to collect new clothing and toys for both families affected by the fire and have posted requested sizes on the Meriden Police Department Facebook page. Gift cards and monetary donations will also be accepted.
Ramirez said they are looking for a new apartment or home in the Meriden area. Monetary donations can also be made on the family’s GoFundMe page.