Late-morning blaze destroys Brownsville family’s house, all inside

The holidays are even more meaningful for the family of Mario Flores and his wife, Cynthia.

They’re alive to celebrate.

The Flores family was devastated on Thursday when a fast-moving fire destroyed their home at 434 Valle Verde Drive, taking all their possessions and the lives of their two dogs.

LEFT: Marley, a Labrador retriever, is seen with Cynthia Hernandez. RIGHT: Phoebe, a Shih Tzu-Chihuahua mix, is seen. (Courtesy photos)

“My three daughters are safe and sound,” Mario Flores said. “My wife is all good. We are just sentimental about the loss. Me, myself, I’m perfectly fine. I’m in good health, we all are.”

That nearly wasn’t the case when the morning of the fire Mario Flores raced to his home and tried to save the dogs, a Shih Tzu-Chihuahua mix and a Labrador retriever named Marley.

“The Labrador was my wife’s. She wasn’t a certified service dog but she was her service dog,” Mario said. “Marley helped my wife Cynthia overcome a miscarriage from several years ago, in 2017.”

“Marley was a baby. She was two months old when we got her, and little did my wife know that Marley was taking care of her,” he said. “She would sleep with her, eat with us, do everything with us.”

The morning of the fire Flores was on the way to deliver a washing machine.

“When my wife called me, like at 9:30, the house already was in flames,” he said. “I was by Los Ebanos, where the post office is, and she tells me ‘The house is on fire! The house is on fire!’ I’m saying, ‘What do you mean?’ And she’s like, ‘My babies! My babies!’”

Mario and a co-worker raced to his home, and anticipating the front would be blocked by police and fire department personnel, drove to an alley in the back.

“I wanted to see if I could get to my dogs,” he said.

He climbed the back eight-foot fence and made his way from there to the front yard.

Cynthia Hernandez looks at her promise ring that her husband Mario Flores found inside the charred remains of their home in Brownsville after a fire incinerated their house on Nov. 10. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

The flames were already reaching toward a neighbor’s fence, 10 to 15 feet away.

“When I opened the porch door, I made my way into the porch, right, five feet from there is the main entrance door,” he recalled. “I did open it, and when I did open it, all that smoke went into my face, and I flinched to the side as I gasped for air. And as soon as I was about to go in, I was quickly detained by the cops.”

“They pulled me out right away. They were like, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it!,’” he said. “I understand now, but I just had the adrenaline going on. And I was able to hear my dog bark twice,” Mario said.

He said the officers took him to his wife, and they watched their home burn for about two hours.

“They were able to give us our pets without any burns, no burns whatsoever,” Mario said. “They were just full of smoke, but my wife was at least able to carry her in her hands, and we were able to do a proper burial for them at my in-laws’ house.”

Mario says he hasn’t even thought about the upcoming holidays; there just hasn’t been time.

But his sister, Keila Taboada, has started a GoFundMe account which she hopes will raise $30,000.

“My goals is to be able to get this to them so that they can start over,” she said. “I know that $30,000 is a lot of money, but in the grand scheme they lost their entire lives.”

For his part, Mario Flores is just happy to be here.

“We are grateful for being alive,” he said. “It’s just hard for my wife to get over Marley, but believe me, from Thursday ‘til now, she’s a lot better.”

No official cause has been declared for the blaze, but Flores says the fire marshal told him it was probably electrical.

So far, the Go Fund Me effort has raised more than $4,100.

To see more, view Brownsville Herald photojournalist Miguel Roberts’ full photo gallery here:

Photo Gallery: Late-morning blaze destroys Brownsville family’s house, all inside