Houston Chronicle

Family members who died in Conroe house fire identified

Toddler, 6-year-old and great-grandmothe­r perished, while mother remains hospitaliz­ed

- By Jennifer Summer jennifer.summer@hcnonline.com

Authoritie­s on Monday identified two young children and their great-grandmothe­r who perished in a house fire in Conroe over the weekend.

The Montgomery County Fire Marshal confirmed the victims were 18-month-old Vanessa Zarate, 6-year-old Marco Zarate and 92-year-old great-grandmothe­r, Raquel Figueroa.

Four other family members were injured early Saturday after they were trapped by the intense, smoky fire that swept through their Conroe home. Fire investigat­ors said the home’s older, electric-powered smoke detectors failed as the single-story brick home in the 16200 block of Long Valley Court filled with “smoke and toxic fire gases.”

Relatives identified the parents as Amanda Zarate, 30, and Marco Zarate, 27. Amanda Zarate remained hospitaliz­ed Monday at Memorial Hermann Burn Center, while Marco Sr. was discharged along with the other children, 7-year-old Danny Figueroa and 5-year-old Julian Zarate.

Photos on Amanda Zarate’s Facebook page show her and five children posing outdoors on a log; four children in swim trunks bunched together and being sprayed with water; and Vanessa and her grandmothe­r cuddled up and sleeping together. The page identifies Amanda Zarate as a general manager at a network services company who had worked as a server and manager at several restaurant­s.

Montgomery County Fire Marshal Jimmy Williams said Monday he had no additional updates.

Thick smoke blocked exits

The fire marshal’s office said the first unit on scene was a crew of three firefighte­rs and their battalion chief from the nearby Caney Creek Fire Station, located about one mile away.

“The firefighte­rs found heavy fire conditions in the kitchen and living room of the single-story brick home, blocking the hallway, trapping the remaining occupants,” Williams said in a written statement Saturday. “A crew of two firefighte­rs immediatel­y entered the home and began a search for the victims using their thermal imaging equipment. Firefighte­rs quickly found a 6year-old male and 18-month-old female, both in respirator­y arrest.”

A Montgomery County Hospital District EMS unit transporte­d the toddler to Texas Children’s Hospital in The Woodlands, where she died. The 6-year-old child was pronounced dead at the scene, the fire marshal’s office said.

“The children’s mother was found by fire and EMS crews crawling out the doorway of the home with severe smoke inhalation injuries, and her husband was injured trying to reach his children’s bedroom. He suffered cuts and smoke inhalation as well as second and third-degree burns,” Williams said.

As fire crews continued to search for the Zarates’ two other children, a neighbor reported that the children, ages 5 and 7, were at his house after he reportedly entered the home through the front door to help search for them.

“He reported that he dropped down below the smoke and found the two boys crawling on the floor in the hallway,” Williams said.

Community rallies to help

Authoritie­s said the fire began on top of the kitchen stove and spread to the cabinets and attic above the stove. Meanwhile hot toxic smoke began to fill the house, blocking the family’s primary escape route, a hallway that led from the bedrooms where their four children were sleeping.

The investigat­ion continues, and initial autopsy results confirmed that the 18-month-old and 6-year-old died as a result of smoke inhalation.

Law enforcemen­t officers and chaplains on scene comforted family members who arrived to check on loved ones while fire and EMS officials addressed the mental health concerns of emergency responders who arrived at the home.

“These men and women came together and performed their jobs with incredible skill and dedication but were not able to save everyone, and they are devastated as well by the losses suffered by this family,” Williams stated.

Friends and family have come together to support the family.

One of the children attended San Jacinto Elementary, which has organized a benefit for the family, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on June 16 at the Summerset Estates Park.

Organizers will also collect clothing for the family. To donate, email ptosje1314@gmail.com. All proceeds and donations will go directly to the Zarate family.

Also, a close family friend has launched a GoFundMe site to support the family. It can be found at www.gofundme.com/traumatic-deadly-firezarate­family.

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