Whitney M. Woodworth, The Republic | azcentral.com
Just over 18 months ago, the cool, tiled living room that Tiara Del Rio and Beau Zimbro were sitting in, playing with their pint-sized dogs, was engulfed in flames.
A gas leak, a lit candle and a fiery explosion reduced their 700-square-foot home to a blackened frame. The young Peoria couple escaped the fire alive but suffered severe burns. Over 60 percent of Zimbro's body had first- and second-degree burns.
Del Rio had more than half of her body covered in second-degree burns. Zimbro pulled Del Rio out of the burning home, and both were rushed to the hospital.
"It's that one moment that really changes your whole life," Zimbro said.
The following months were a blur of extended hospital stays, skin treatments and surgeries for the couple. They stayed with family, while their home, located near Peoria Elementary School in southern Peoria, remained in ruins.
But now, with help from local organizations, the couple is settling into their new home, rebuilt on the same spot that exploded in flames in 2013.
Del Rio said they struggled to rebuild the home with insurance money for months until Ryan McDermott, owner of McDermott Construction, stepped in to help. McDermott said he heard about the couple's difficulties and connected with them through mutual acquaintances.
"We felt that we could make an impact and turn around things quickly for them," he said. "It seemed like the right thing to do."
Del Rio recently gave a tour of the home, showing a reporter around from the granite-countered kitchen to the guest bedroom, two bathrooms and master bedroom. The new home is 200 square feet bigger than their previous one.
"McDermott Construction really went above and beyond," Del Rio said.
Erik McMorrow, a building inspector for the city of Peoria, said he was impressed and inspired by McDermott's work after coming out to inspect the property. McMorrow also serves on the executive board of AFSCME Local 3282 and worked to get the union involved in continuing work on the couple's home.
"My family lost their home in the 2003 wildfires in Southern California," McMorrow said. "I know what it's like to not have a home."
He and his wife, Leslie McMorrow, went to work collaborating with local businesses to help Del Rio and Zimbro.
"I can't fathom what they've been through with their injuries," he said. "That was mine and my wife's goal: They've been through hell. Let's put them in a home."
Del Rio and Zimbro both lost their sweat glands in the explosion. Keeping the home constantly cool looked to be an overwhelming financial burden, McMorrow said. But then, Black Platinum Solar & Electric Inc., along with BayWa r.e. Renewable Energy and Wesco Distribution, donated and installed a $15,000 solar panel system for the home.
A therapy spa on the back porch was donated by Thunderbird Pools and Spas, PoolCorp and Tuff Spas. Several volunteers from the city and Blackmore Concrete spent a Saturday laying concrete, donated by Younger Brothers Companies. Royce Masonry built a wall around the perimeter of the house. Furniture, gates, and security doors were donated by various local businesses.
Del Rio said she wanted to use the open house to thank all the local businesses and organizations that helped them.
"We pretty much came into this house with nothing," she said.
Peoria Mayor Cathy Carlat and Peoria City Councilwoman Vicki Hunt plan to attend the housewarming event. The Peoria Firefighters' barbecue team will be cooking lunch, and all party equipment will be donated by A to Z Equipment Rentals and Sales. McMorrow said the open house will include a dunk tank and raffle to raise additional funds.
In all, more than 70 businesses, organizations and individuals in Peoria and the Valley have contributed to the project.
The couple moved into their new home April 11. The inside of the house has freshly painted walls and tiled floors. But it is sparsely furnished.
McMorrow said he is hoping to convince businesses to donate or sell at a discount other items for the home, including couches, tables, a bed or a living room set.
Filmmakers from the Phoenix Burn Documentary, a feature-length film focusing on patients treated at the Arizona Burn Center, are following Zimbro and Del Rio through their recovery.
The couple's schedules still are filled with appointments and surgeries. Del Rio said she wants to counsel other burn victims and young women about self-image. Before the accident, Zimbro worked in construction, painted homes and enjoyed being outdoors.
Both are looking forward to being counselors at the Arizona Burn Foundation's Camp Courage in Prescott this summer. Zimbro is postponing surgery on his arm to attend the camp.
Between camp, the documentary and the surgeries, Del Rio said she wants to focus on turning the house into their home. She's creating a mosaic on a table using tiles recovered from the accident's wreckage.
"The biggest part has been having something about my aunt," she said. "She was the previous owner of the house, and she died of ovarian cancer. I want her to be part of the house even though she's not here anymore."
A ceramic heart ornament that her aunt received after being diagnosed with cancer was found after the fire. It was a little burnt, but still in one piece. It's now set in the concrete of the path leading to the front door.
"My plan this year is to get this house done and make it our dream home," Del Rio said.