What started as one of the best Halloweens and birthdays quickly turned into a night to grieve when the Rodrigue family’s garage caught fire Monday night. No lives were lost, but the hardest part is mourning the loss of sentimental items and the memories their house once held, the family said.
Now, with nowhere to call home for possibly six to 10 months, Daniel and Diamond Rodrigue, along with their two young children, are facing an uncertain future. But it’s some consolation that their community has quickly pulled together to offer support — overwhelmingly so, they said.
Daniel and Diamond are both journalists who write for the Dallas Observer, and Daniel is a professor at Dallas College. Daniel Rodrigue studied at the University of North Texas and covered Denton’s music scene for several years. When the two married, they moved from Dallas up to Denton in January 2018.
A Polaroid photo shows Daniel and Diamond Rodrigue with their
children, Harrison, 4, and Chloe, 18 months.
After a stint of living in apartments near the Square, they settled on their beloved home in a neighborhood near North Lakes Park. The first night they spent in their new place was on Halloween in 2019, Diamond said.
“We saw [the house] and we just both knew. We were like, ‘This is it,’” Daniel said.
Exactly three years later, they were enjoying another Halloween night at their home. Daniel and Diamond dressed up as Star Trek characters. They’d taken their two kids, 4-year-old Harrison and 18-month-old Chloe, out trick-or-treating. And as Daniel’s birthday is on Oct. 31, they celebrated with presents and pumpkin cupcakes.
“We just had the best time,” Daniel said.
Daniel had been out of town until Sunday, so he and Diamond agreed she’d take some time to herself after taking the kids trick-or-treating. Diamond went out to see a movie, Prey for the Devil, at Alamo Drafthouse while Daniel tucked Chloe into bed and sat down to spend some time with his son. He wanted to show Harrison the original King Kong movie, which he remembers loving when he was around his son’s age.
It was about 20 minutes into the movie when Daniel smelled something off. He turned to Harrison and asked if he smelled it too. Engrossed in the film, Harrison said no.
“I don’t know for how many seconds — for a few seconds — I sat there on the couch like, ‘I might be having a stroke,’ because he said he didn’t smell anything,” Daniel said. “I took a couple deep breaths and I was like, ‘No, there’s definitely something burning.’”
He quickly checked the first suspects: nothing in the oven and no candles burning. Then, he saw faint wisps of smoke rising from the garage door connected to the living room.
“This was the first mistake I made,” Daniel said. “I didn’t do what the PSAs tell you to do and grab a towel or whatever.”
Daniel grabbed the doorknob and turned it, causing the door to open with a sucking force. He said a firefighter would later explain to him that the garage was like a smoke-filled vacuum and when he opened the door, it provided the fire inside with new oxygen, forcing it open.
“Luckily, I only had like three split seconds of my hand touching the doorknob,” Daniel said. “I held my breath and I dropped to my right knee and I used my left hand — I got as low as I could because I know the heat and smoke’s rising. Using my left hand, I reached out and pulled the door shut.”
Later, once the adrenaline had stopped rushing, Daniel would realize the extent of his burns and the devastation to his garage.
“All I could think about was getting the kids out as fast as possible,” Daniel said. “... I wish I had some better, cool, heroic thing to say. But yeah, literally it was just the raw adrenaline.”
He spun around and picked up Harrison, running him to the front door. A neighbor had just come over to notify him of the smoke coming out of the garage. The neighbor waited with Harrison while Daniel rushed to get his sleeping daughter.
At this point, the fire alarms kicked on. As he tore up the stairs, Daniel called 911. He remembers begging them to get there as quickly as they could before the fire started to spread. He grabbed Chloe out of her nursery and brought her outside.
“When I picked Chloe up, I held her as close to my chest as I possibly could to kind of keep her face out of the smoke just in case,” Daniel said. “It hadn’t really started coming into the house at that point.”
Once everyone was safely outside, Daniel sat on a nearby bench with Chloe on his lap and Harrison to his side and watched as the house was “consumed.”
“My Jeep Wrangler was making hissing, popping sounds and explosions,” he said. “We heard from some neighbors they thought gunshots were going off because there were at least four or five explosions, which apparently was the tires exploding.”
The Rodrigue family’s home in north Denton burned on Monday
night. Daniel Rodrigue got his two children out of the home,
although he received burns. His wife, Diamond Rodrigue, was out
seeing a movie and had to rush to the hospital in her Halloween
911 dispatchers received the call at about 8:54 p.m. and the first fire unit was at the scene about three and a half minutes later, Denton Fire Department Battalion Chief David Boots said. In all, they were at the scene for over three hours. Boots said the cause of the fire was undetermined.
A paramedic approached Daniel and asked if anyone was inside still and then tended to their injuries. Chloe’s face was covered in soot from when Daniel hugged her close, and the paramedics worried she might have inhaled some.
Daniel fared the worst from opening the door. He has blisters on both hands. The ones on his left hand are as big as cicadas and ballooned about a half-inch away from his hand. There’s blistering on his cheeks, ears and nose as well.
“One of the weird silver linings of this is about two hours before we went trick-or-treating, I shaved my beard off. Captain Kirk can’t have a beard,” Daniel said. “... I’m convinced if I’d had my full beard, I would have been burned worse because that beard would have caught fire.”
Before paramedics took them away, neighbors ran up with a stuffed animal, a blanket and bottled water. Daniel said he and the kids had nothing but the clothes on their backs, not even shoes, and his phone, wallet and keys, which had already been in his pants pocket.
While en route to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton, Daniel’s mother got in contact with Alamo Drafthouse to try to alert Diamond to what had just occurred.
“I was watching the movie and I had this feeling like, ‘I wonder if something were to happen while I was in the movie, like with Daniel and the kids, how would they get a hold of me?’” Diamond recalled.
Daniel Rodrigue — a photographer by trade — took a selfie of
himself and his daughter, Chloe, while their house was burning and
after he was injured in the blaze on Monday night.
About five minutes after that thought, a theater manager approached her to say her mother-in-law was on the phone.
“I just fell to the floor and had a massive panic,” Diamond said of hearing the news of the fire. “Of course, he and the kids were OK. But you assume the worst. I just had to pull myself together and I drove to the hospital and I was dressed as a lady Spock.”
With her Vulcan ears and Spock eyebrows on, Diamond sat in the waiting room with her son, who had been waiting at the hospital with fire personnel.
Chloe was released to Diamond about an hour after they arrived. Daniel was transferred to another hospital for further treatment for his burns.
“Daniel was our hero that night,” Diamond said. “Our neighbors even told me through tears that he was a savior. And I couldn’t be more thankful that he risked his own well-being to save our babies.”
Daniel Rodrigue’s damaged Jeep Wrangler sits inside the family’s
burned garage in north Denton.
When they returned to the house later, they found the garage gutted. Polaroids of family Christmas photos were reduced to ash. Daniel’s grandfather, who died 15 years ago, had given him his tools and leather tool belt. Those, too, were gone with the fire.
“The saddest part for me is my grandfather’s tools,” Daniel said, getting choked up. “I have my grandpa’s hammer, some socket wrenches, a Western tool belt that said his name, DeWayne. I had it pinned up on the wall in the garage. Those sorts of things you have an emotional attachment to — there’s no replacing them.”
The garage also stored precious memories of their children, old toys and clothes from when they were still infants. And along with the items in their home, the home itself was a horrible loss, Diamond said.
While the fire was mostly contained to the garage, fighting the blaze came with some additional damage, Daniel said. Firefighters had to drench the home and cut holes in the walls. Much of what wasn’t burned downstairs has sustained water damage.
“I went to the house for the first time [Tuesday] and it was like grieving the loss of a person, like a death,” Diamond said. “Walking through it and having these memories of the kids going up the stairs, playing in the playroom and giving them a bath. ... You don’t think about your house as being this thing you have such an emotional connection with. But it’s been the hardest thing seeing how destroyed it was. It felt like the memories were destroyed with it.”
The family is staying in a hotel room until their insurance can get them a more suitable place to stay with a nursery and kitchen while they wait until possibly next summer for their home to be livable again.
Diamond said it’s been hard being with their children in such a small space. And with Daniel injured and becoming the de facto person for insurance calls and people reaching out to help, she’s essentially become the sole caretaker for the kids. Chloe especially has had a hard time adjusting to the new environment, she said.
Despite the hardship, Diamond said she was so surprised to see the outpouring of support from the community.
“To think this many people would come out and help us is so overwhelming,” Diamond said. “I think moving here was the best thing we’ve done, even though our house burned.”
Daniel said he has received countless messages from people asking how they can help the family. One friend, Bruce Burns, set up a GoFundMe campaign that had received over $19,000 from about 250 donors by Wednesday night. Another friend, Justin Goode — who co-founded the Instant Film Society with Daniel — created a meal train so the family won’t have to rely on takeout food while they recover. Their friend Joey Liechty — whom Daniel helped in organizing Dentonpalooza recently — brought dozens of water bottles to their hotel room.
Dan’s Silverleaf, at 103 Industrial St., is hosting a donation drive Thursday afternoon for people to bring items the family needs. Daniel said they especially need clothing and shoes, as anything that wasn’t soaked or destroyed reeks of smoke.
The Chestnut Tree Teahouse & Bistro, at 107 W. Hickory St., is also allowing people to drop off donations. Owner Suzanne Johnson said she knows Daniel as he brings the kids for brunch every weekend.
“I saw the post this morning on Facebook and it just broke my heart,” Johnson said. “... They’ve got a long road ahead of them. Anything we as a community can do to help them would be fantastic. They do a lot for the community as well and write articles about local businesses. They’re just part of us and we want to have their back.”
Daniel said with all the avenues of help, their family is definitely feeling the love from the community.
“We’ve never been more happy that we get to consider this community our family or friends,” Daniel said through tears. “It’s really moving. Both of us have teared up several times because we can’t believe it’s happened so quickly. People were dropping by, skipping work to come help us. It’s been amazing.”