FAIRFIELD — Terlica Matthews and her family aren’t getting much sleep these days.
Matthews’ head rested on a recent day on the dining room table, eyes drooping, at the home of mother, Theresa Wallace.
“I have a lot on my mind,” Matthews said.
Matthews, 26, her two young cousins, Vanessa, 7, and Victoria Wallace, 11, the children’s father, Jermaine Wallace, 39, and Matthews’ grandmother, Maggie Wallace, 74, escaped with their lives, but nothing else, in a fire two weeks ago that ripped through the multigenerational family’s townhouse on Villa Court. It was Aug. 16 – 11 days before this week’s devastating Marigold Drive blaze.
Matthews and a nearby neighbor, Keith Jefferson, half carried and half dragged Maggie Wallace out of the burning home. Jefferson, Theresa Wallace said, wouldn’t let the disabled Maggie Wallace stop moving until she was across the street.
“He’s a hero in my book. My mom was fighting to go back into the fire,” Theresa Wallace, 49, said of the neighbor. “He kept saying, ‘Mom, we’ve got to go.’ That’s why I call him my hero.”
While the family is thankful they all made it out, some irreplaceable memories were lost to Vanessa and Victoria, both David Weir Elementary School students. Their mother died recently and both girls said that what they miss most are photos of her. They also lost all their newly purchased school clothes and supplies – school started two days prior to the fire – and Victoria had some special photos tucked into the plastic flap of her new binder.
“I had pictures of my mom, my best friend and my grandparents,” she said.
The young girls cracked a smile occasionally as they sat around Theresa Wallace’s dining room table. Theresa Wallace noticed the sadness in the faces of her family members.
“I see a little bit of withdrawal,” she said of Vanessa and Victoria. “They’re not laughy like the used to be.”
She wonders if, between losing their mother and the fire, they’ll need professional help to get through the trauma.
“Terlica looks like she’s not herself anymore,” she said.
The fire started in the kitchen while cooking french fries. The family was getting ready for movie night. Theresa Wallace, who lives two doors down, was in her own residence at the time of the fire. Vanessa was upstairs with her father. Everyone else was downstairs.
“I was scared,” Vanessa said.
The family was clad in only pajamas; no shoes, no jackets. Maggie Wallace was wearing her nightgown and house coat, she said.
“That’s all I had on,” Maggie Wallace said.
Even her walker was left behind in the rush to escape the fast-spreading flames. She now has a newly donated walker.
The family is working with the Red Cross to find housing, but currently they are staying with family members in Vallejo. It’s a tight fit, with dad and daughters in one room and Maggie Wallace and Matthews, who cares for Maggie Wallace, in another.
They make the trek to Fairfield every weekday to get the girls to school and Maggie Wallace to medical appointments. When they regularly visit Theresa Wallace, they’re confronted with the charred remains of where they used to live. Victoria said it’s hard and it reminds her of that night.
“I can’t hurt like they hurt but I hurt because I know they lost a lot that I take for granted,” Theresa Wallace said.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.