By: Julia Deng
MONAHANS - A garage fire, believed to have ignited when a Volkswagen parked inside experienced mechanical failure, engulfed a N Main Ave house Tuesday night in Monahans.
Fire officials declared the home a total loss, after Monahans volunteer firefighters spent four hours putting out the blaze.
"This is heartbreaking," said Bernett Hernandez.
Her parents, Zulema and Ascencion "Sean" Prieto, own the house.
"My daddy has worked [for an oil field company here] for about 38 years, and that's how long they've had this home," she told NewsWest 9. "It is very, very hard to swallow."
Her father reportedly tried starting his Volkswagen "Beetle" Tuesday evening, had trouble starting the car's battery and left the car in the garage while eating dinner with his wife in the back of the house.
According to Hernandez, they "heard a pop" a few minutes later.
"The electricity went out, and they didn't realize anything was wrong in the garage," she said.
The Volkswagen went up in flames, which engulfed the garage, damaged another vehicle parked nearby beyond repair and promptly spread to the attic, fire officials told NewsWest 9.
According to Billy Riley, the Monahans Volunteer Fire Chief, Sean and Zulema Prieto were initially unaware their garage was on fire because "the flames first traveled up, and burned through the attic," instead of spreading horizontally to the main section of their house.
Neighbors noticed black smoke billowing from their garage, and alerted the fire department - as well as the Prietos - around 6 p.m.
"All we could do was protect the structures around [the garage]," said Chief Riley. "We had to wait until the attic opened up enough for us to fight the fire."
Riley said firefighters "couldn't do more" because the Prietos had built additional, "roof-like" levels on top of the original attic.
"The attic had several transitions," he explained. "Five different transitions, which didn't allow us access to it to fight the fire. It just made it a real difficult situation."
Riley recommended checking to make sure all houses are built with firebreaks, or gaps between layers of combustible material.
He said overlooking fire safety was a "common mistake" among families expanding or remodeling homes without professional help.
"[The Prietos] had a beautiful home," said Riley. "They probably spent most of their lives adding on [and] making their home just exactly like they wanted. But sometimes, we fail to recognize when we do that... we don't put firebreaks in there. Of course, we all live in a world where 'it can't happen to me.'"
Hernandez said she believed the house "could have had a chance," had firefighters immediately broken through the garage door.
"I appreciate how hard they tried, but I think there's a chance that could have prevented the fire from spreading out of the garage," she said.
"The important thing is my parents are alive. I am so grateful that they're alive, because this could have really, really been tragic."