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Apartment fire details surface

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A recent apartment fire left a local 9-year-old boy severely burned. His classmates in Barnardsville have surrounded him with well wishes. Photo by James Mathews

Published in the Weaverville Tribune January, 2017

By Heather Berry

Barnardsville – Details are emerging about the early morning
apartment complex fire in Barnardsville Jan. 3. Michelle Ventura, of Weaverville, said her brother, Robert, sister-in-law, Sarah , and 9-year-old nephew Cayden, were all badly injured in the fire and transported to the burn center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem where they remain in intensive care indefinitely.

According to Michelle, the fire may have started due to a gas leak in the apartment. The complex is now condemned due to smoke, fire and water damage. More than 10 families have had to find another place to call home.

“They still don’t know exactly what the story is, but there were gas stoves at the apartments,” said Michelle. “It was an explosion fire. She (Sarah) was up for some reason and lit a match,” said Michelle. According to Michelle, Sarah had no knowledge of the possible gas leak and the fire started inadvertently.

Sarah Ventura, according to Michelle, suffered the worst from the fire, with burns on 80-90 percent of her body. Robert and Cayden both have burns on 50 percent of their bodies. The family has no health insurance. While the Red Cross is able to help in terms of immediate needs like food, shelter and clothing for victims of fire, the organization is not able to help with the many expenses
which go along with family members traveling distances to a
burn center.

“Sarah has so much of her body burned, they don’t have skin for
skin grafting,” explained Michelle. “Due to the fact my brother and nephew have less burns, their prognosis is a little better. I’m
holding out hope they will all be okay. It’s touch-and-go.”
The family has recently reached out to the media to gather some
community support with the financial impact of the tragedy. The
family is raising fi nancial donations through a GoFundMe.com account at: https://www.gofundme.com/xnvynbcc. A trust has
also been set up through Eblen Charities. Donations can be
made at: www.eblencharities.org/makeadonation. Specify “Ventura Family” in the designation space on the form.

According to Michelle, many friends and members of the community have reached out and asked for ways to help the family. Barnardsville Elementary School, where Cayden attends, has sent a slew of cards and “Get well” wishes. “They’ve made him some cards and sent him some stuffed animals,” said Michelle. A dental assistant by trade, Michelle said, life is very different after Jan. 3. “I’ve just been up at Wake Forest,” she said. “I will go up and check on my brother, then my sister-in-law, then, I will head down to the pediatric unit to see my nephew. I will talk to the nurses and the doctors and it’s just running, running, running constantly to keep up with everything.”

The family of three has been on life support since the event.
Cayden began to communicate first, said Michelle, with requests
for water and asking for his mother. Michelle, visibly emotional,
described how difficult it’s been to  leave Cayden’s side to come home to responsibilities in Weaverville, especially when he is becoming more aware of the situation. The prognosis for all three burn victims is difficult to assess said Michelle. “This is going to be a really long process,” said Michelle. The tragedy has impacted the entire family, she said, and required family members to travel
to Winston-Salem regularly. Michelle has been staying at the
Ronald McDonald House near the medical center, in between trips back to her home in Weaverville.

Sonny Vincent, father of Michelle and Robert, has come back from being overseas to help support his son and family. A single mom, Michelle admitted the event has turned her life upside-down, but is taking things day-by-day. “It was a Sunday morning around 9 a.m. and I remember thinking, ‘I have about 20 more minutes to sleep before church,” said Michelle describing the morning of the fire. “My phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize and the message said it was an arson detective. Michelle returned the call and learned about her brother and his family. “I packed up my stuff and immediately headed up there,” she said.

“When I saw them the first time, they had to pick me up, I couldn’t stand.” According to Michelle, the family was first sent to Mission Hospital in Asheville and, then, all three were airlifted to Wake Forest. Michelle has tried to shield her 17-year-son as much as she is able from the tragedy, but admits it’s been hard with her new schedule. She credits North Buncombe High School with offering flexibility and understanding. “At first, I was driving up there, spending the day, driving back home, getting my son ready for school and heading back to the hospital. I did that for several
days.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen when school starts back up after exams,” she added. “He can’t miss the fi rst part of his new semester at school.” The next surgeries are scheduled
through the end of January. “The doctors told us, ‘Don’t make any plans or go anywhere until after the second surgeries,’” said
Michelle.

“If we don’t get some financial donations, we won’t be able to continue this schedule,” she continued. “They need our help and support.” In particular, Michelle has asked for gift cards for food, gas and other travel-related expenses.

Donations can be made at: https://www.gofundme.com/xnvynbcc. A trust has also been set up through Eblen Charities. Donations can be made at: www. eblencharities.org/makeadonation. Specify “Ventura Family” in the designation space on the form.