For Randy Mojica, who served two tours in Iraq, buying that house symbolized years of hard work paying off — a lesson he wanted to impart to his children.
“We honestly did this just through saving, working hard, and trying to show the kids that you could do this if you really work hard,” Mojica said.
He and his wife, Cielo, who both lived in apartments their entire lives, purchased the home in the Borough of Metuchen less than two years ago.
“Everything just seemed to fall in place at that time because my wife and I just got married and after we got married, we got the house,” Mojica told Fox News. “First home bought and owned. It was the happiest day of my life.”
But on Christmas Eve around 8:20 p.m., the home caught on fire while the Mojicas and their four children, ages 5, 6, 11, and, 17, were at a friend’s house for a holiday party. They had missed the fire by about 10 minutes.
Mojica said he didn’t know about the fire until he grabbed his phone to take a picture of his family and saw missed calls. He and his wife left the kids at their friend’s house and drove back.
“I feel like my brain just exploded, or something. I couldn’t think at that at the time,” Mojica said, describing how the events unfolded that night.
The family’s two dogs, Rogue and Logan, died in the fire. Mojica said his family is more heartbroken over losing the dogs than losing the home.
“They were really the highlight of the life of the house. You know dogs. They’re always happy. They always bring life to the house,” Mojica said.
Firefighters battled the flames into the early morning. Neighboring fire and police departments were on the scene to assist. The Metuchen Fire Department said firefighters “operating in waist-deep water” in the basement of the home, were able to rescue the family’s five pet snakes.
Fire Chief Robert Donnan said on Saturday that the cause of the fire was electrical in nature, caused by holiday lights that were either outside or inside an enclosed porch, the Bridgewater Courier News reported.
Mojica said he and his wife did not tell the kids about the fire and their two dogs until the following day. The family is now staying with relatives until everything is sorted out.
In the days since the blaze, the Mojicas have received an outpouring of support. Metuchen has begun aggregating different ways people can help through ItTakesABorough.com. The Fuccile Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping local families affected by tragedies, has raised nearly $84,000. And Mojica’s brother, Manuel Rodriguez, has setup a GoFundMe page that has raised more than $43,000 — surpassing it original $35,000 goal. On Christmas Day, Mojica’s neighbors brought over gifts for the children.
Mojica said he is thankful for everyone who has helped out – including all neighbors and service departments involved – and that his family is overwhelmed by the support.
“I’ve never seen a community like this in my life,” Mojica said. “I was just telling my wife, ‘This is unbelievable. I feel like we’re not alone in this. I feel like there are people trying to reach out to us and helping us.’”
Mojica described his wife and himself as “very humble” people who did not expect this level of support, but it has reaffirmed his belief in the power of community.
“Even though 2020 was such a bad year, this is a good example to show that there’s always love and hope,” Mojica said. “This is all about companionship, we have to be there for each other no matter what.”
*story by Fox News