Ray and Paulette Vasquez hadn't planned to be gone long from their row-house apartment on Green Street when they went shopping Wednesday night.
While they were gone only an hour, that was long enough for a fire to gut their small apartment and leave Paulette's father, John Ioupe, badly burned and overcome with smoke, in critical condition in the University Hospital burn center. He remained in critical condition Thursday."When we first drove up, I thought the whole place had gone up," Ray Vasquez said Wednesday night.
However, the fire and fumes that overcame Ioupe caused little damage outside of the Vasquez apartment. Investigators estimated damage to be more than $25,000. Vasquez said the family had no fire insurance.
Ioupe, 59, was unconscious when firefighters pulled him from the living room at 669 S. Green Street (640 East) after they arrived about 5:20 p.m. Salt Lake Fire Department Investigator Jeff Long said the blaze started in the rear of the home and blocked the back door.
Ioupe, an amputee with an artificial leg, apparently tried to use the door, then went into the living room toward a locked front door. He collapsed there, near a small heating stove, Long said.
He suffered smoke inhalation and first-degree burns on his leg, face and arms, Salt Lake Fire Battalion Chief Jerry Duke said. Paramedics were able to get him breathing, but he remained unconscious while being transported to the hospital by ambulance.
The fire's cause is still being probed, but Long said investigators are checking the possibility that children in the area playing with fireworks may have triggered the blaze.
"Several people said they heard a loud boom shortly before the blaze began," Long said.
Some 28 firefighters and paramedics rushed to the apartment, which is part of an aging 12-unit complex. The single-story frame apartment was gutted, while an adjacent unit was damaged by smoke. The fire was under control within a half-hour.
Investigators were at first puzzled when they found an unloaded revolver tucked in Ioupe's belt, but Vasquez said his father-in-law, a Ute Indian and Korean War veteran, always carried the gun. On the reservation near Duchesne he would often shoot at snakes and other animals.
"He's a big help to us. I like to have him around. The kids like to tease him a lot," said Vasquez.
The Vasquezes, their two children and Ioupe had moved from the reservation to Salt Lake City only two months ago. They were hoping for a new life.
"As we were driving to the hospital my wife said, `Now we have got to start from the bottom again,' " Vasquez said.
The family plans to move into an empty apartment at the Green Street complex, get some beds from the Red Cross and start to pick up the pieces.