Family recovers after fire destroys home

Hannah Grover

FARMINGTON – Last year, as her family prepared for Thanksgiving, Tori Myers said she approached the holiday simply as an opportunity to have a day off work.

This year, she has a much different outlook.

“Now, it’s kind of like starting a whole new life,” she said.

The family’s house, located on N.M. Highway 170 between Farmington and La Plata, was destroyed in a fire at the beginning of October.

Tori Myers, left, and her son Xavier Palulis look Tuesday at the site of an October fire that destroyed their home in La Plata.

Since then, Myers and her husband, Matt Palulis, have spent most of their daylight hours when they are not at work clearing debris and preparing the site for a new modular home.

They have been living across the highway at Myers’ mother’s house with their 16-year-old son. The family plans to spend Thanksgiving working on the house, although they still plan on having a nice Thanksgiving meal as a family.

“I’ll be out here working,” Palulis said. “They’ll be in there cooking.”

Palulis is currently preparing a foundation for the new modular home the family will be getting at the end of December or beginning of January.

Small donations from community members have helped the family get back on their feet, including providing clothes and money. There have been several fundraisers to help provide money for them. The family also has a youcaring account set up to accept donations.

Because the family did not have home insurance, the fire has been a huge financial blow for them.

Matt Palulis talks about the aftermath of the fire that destroyed his family's home on Tuesday on his property in La Plata.

About six months before the fire, they canceled their policy because the premiums increased substantially after Palulis installed a $2,000 solar system in the home. As he was driving home after his mother-in-law told him that his house was on fire, Palulis said he was mainly thinking about how he was losing that solar system.

Palulis had been at work at the Aztec Municipal School District headquarters on West Aztec Boulevard when he received that call.

“I saw the smoke on the Light Plant Road — that’s how bad it was,” he said.

As he works to prepare the property for his family's new home, Palulis is trying to remain positive.

“The house was so old and cold that I’m glad it went down, but I’m not so glad we lost everything in the process,” he said.

He said the family now will have a warm home that isn’t drafty.

When the family moved to Farmington in 2004, they bought the 1963 home. At the time, it was unfit for habitation, but they fixed it up and added on to the structure. Palulis said the original house was constructed primarily of four large panels of glass. Later, they built on using cinder blocks and wood.

Dan Andrews, of Farmington, helps prepare an area Tuesday where a modular home will go on Tori Myers' and Matt Palulis' property in La Plata.

The element that led them to purchase the home was a kiva that had been built into the foundation. That stood out to Myers, who is an archaeologist at Salmon Ruins.

The kiva is still there, largely undamaged by the fire. The flagstone that had once been at the bottom of the kiva has been removed and is now stacked off to the side at the western edge of the foundation. Palulis and Myers said they may use it for stepping stones in their garden

The day of the fire, Myers was at work preparing to lead a tour to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which was running late. Palulis called the office at Salmon Ruins and told her she had to come home.

She said she panicked when she saw the blaze.

“I didn’t really know what to think,” Myers said.

Even after the fire was extinguished, firefighters remained at the property, and the family was not able to return the site until the next day.

Matt Palulis greets one of his peacocks on Tuesday on his property in La Plata.

The family lost years of photographs that were on a computer, as well as things Palulis had built, such as an electric bicycle, and many other possessions.

“It’s all very difficult because every time you need something, it’s not there anymore,” Myers said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general new, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.