At 2:30 a.m. on February 12, a strong smoke smell awakened Moris Guardado Zetino in the two-story condominium he owns in southwest Houston.

Mori’s recalls the fire as he walks his home

“I suddenly I woke up and felt like I was choking,” said Moris.

He then noticed smoke coming from the second-floor bathroom. As he opened the door, a plum of dark smoke engulfed him. The bathroom was on fire!

“Everything happened really fast, said Moris. “In minutes the smoke quickly filled the bedroom.”

He raced to wake up his wife, then hurried to his children’s rooms. Everyone quickly ran downstairs and out the front door. Only with everyone safely outside did Moris realize he was wearing only boxer shorts and a T-shirt!

Once outside, Moris could see that his unit, one of a group of eight in a stand-alone building and part of a large apartment complex, was on fire. The Zetino family then gathered with other neighbors under a nearby covered community patio that offered a shield from the flames.  Suddenly, someone yelled “Where is Lolita”?

Looking up, Moris saw Lolita, a 70-year-old woman living alone in the condominium next to his frantically trying to open her second-story window. He quickly ran below the window yelling for Lolita to go downstairs to her front door. Once downstairs, she tried to open the heavy metal gate covering the entrance, but she could not find the key. In desperation, Lolita tried to open the side window as her unit quickly filled up with smoke.

Meanwhile, Moris raced to his back patio and found a hammer and screwdriver to try to force open the metal gate of Lolita’s front door. With his wife reminding him that he had a family to take care of and not to run into the burning condominium, Moris knew he must try to save his neighbor.

 “I pushed with all my might,” he said. “I have no idea how, but I opened the gate.”

Once he opened the door, Moris saw Lolita lying unconscious on her living room floor overcome by the thick smoke! He then carried his neighbor to the covered community patio where paramedics administered oxygen. Thankfully, Lolita regained consciousness.

Soon after the fire began, the American Red Cross arrived at the fire. Volunteers set up canteen services for firefighters and first responders and offered help with lodging and expenses and a shoulder to lean on for those affected by the fire. Moris explained the relief he felt from the help given by the Red Cross.

“I was overcome with emotion when I saw that the Red Cross was here to help us,” he said. “I know that they can’t give us everything, but I am very grateful for the help they can give us.”

After emigrating from El Salvador in 2004, Moris worked at metal cleaning factory and bought his first home, the condominium that caught fire. The condominium represented an opportunity for Moris and his wife to raise their two children and built a family together.

Reflecting on the fire and what was lost Moris Zetino said, “I thank God we’re alive. Material things do not matter. What matters is that I still have my family.”

Story By: Francisco Philibert