MERIDEN — Residents are banding together to help a city family recover from a fire on Linsley Avenue last week that has left them homeless.
Impressed by the bravery of 17-year-old Kevin Fajardo, who scaled a ladder with a garden hose and fought the flames on Jan. 6 until firefighters arrived, Carolina Price of Meriden has organized a Gofundme page to help Fajardo's family repair their home or address other needs created by the fire.
"I am Latina. I know that the Latin American community is a little small and it is important to help each other, look out for each other," Price said Tuesday. "Sometimes people don't have that much to reach out to or don't know how to find help."
Price said she was pleased at the number of people speaking on social media in praise of Fajardo's actions and offering to help his family. Some 75 comments, mostly praising Fajardo or offering help to his family, were visible on one Facebook page, Positively Meriden, as of Tuesday.
"Just amazing. A hero for his family and our community. Way to go!" one patron said.
"Intelligent and very brave. Knowing what to do and having the guts to do it," another said.
"What a great kid. I’d love to help this family."
"I too could give some donations. Can someone post info on what they need, and how to donate?"
Comments on a half-dozen other area-based social media pages were similarly positive. The outpouring comes at a proud time for Meriden and especially its Latin American communities. Long a proud and vocal part of Meriden, Latinos in the community have been bolstered by former Meriden Assistant Superintendent of Schools Miguel Cardona's nomination to become the nation's next top public educator, the U.S. Secretary of Education, as part of incoming President-elect Joe Biden's administration.
"We have always been seen as the minority and, in particular, Central Americans, oftentimes feel invisible," said Price, whose father, the Rev. Javier Reyes, is pastor at 6th Alpha & Omega Latin-American Church of Meriden. "So the appointment of Miguel Cardona is a sense of pride for us who identify as Hispanic and I think in the end it makes us all feel like we can make a difference, even if it is small."
Firefighters recommend against using garden hoses to fight fires for many reasons, but still praised Fajardo for his work. Deputy Fire Chief Ryan Dunn said the teen did a good job suppressing the flames until firefighters arrived.
The fire destroyed a first-floor kitchen and damaged the second floor at 94 Linsley Ave., leaving a dozen people homeless.
The cause of the fire was ruled accidental. It started with a wood stove that was improperly installed years before the family moved in. Its smoke stack was too close to a wall and over time heated up, causing the wall to ignite, Fire Marshal John Yacovino has said.
Fajardo's mother, Ana Castro, said she and her family were gratified at the offers of help they have received. The family doesn't need many items, as the fire didn't spread far enough to greatly damage their clothes or goods, but it can use financial help, as their house was not insured, Castro said.
Castro, a nail technician at a Wallingford salon, and her husband, an auto body repairman, have six children. Four other people, who also lived there temporarily, have moved back to Ecuador since the fire, Castro said.
Her family is staying at a family friend's house until they can get clearance from the city to move back in. Since the fire, the electricity and heat to the building has been shut off, Castro said.
"That's a big problem," she said.
Castro spoke with difficulty about the fire. She speaks English fluently, but it is an emotional subject, and she is hard on herself in describing what happened. Castro wept and said repeatedly that no one knew of the problems with the installation of the wood stove.
Yacovino said that given that the stove chimney was behind a wall, there was likely no way that the family could have known of the flaw with the stove.
"I didn't know that was going to happen," Castro said. "It is very difficult to explain."
Price said she hopes people will help the family.
"It would be nice for Kevin to know that people recognize his bravery and are willing to offer his family some help," Price said.
Record-Journal writer Lauren Sellew contributed to this report.
Anyone interested in helping the Castro family can go to the gofundme page, “17yo braves house fire, now family needs help,” at gofundme.com or can contact Price at email@example.com.