Mother of five close to rebuilding life after fire

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 6, 2012

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — Alma Salas is $7,000 away from getting her pride back.
The 36-year-old mother of five has slowly been piecing her life back together for the last year and a half after a fire started one night in October 2010.
But insurance funds have all but run out, and so have her savings.
Salas stood at the half-finished house recently. Because she doesn’t have the last of her insurance money and she’s juggling bills, Salas stood about 5 feet below the front door with mounds of red dirt piled around the residence.
She hopes it gets filled in soon.
Investigators said the fire started in a faulty electrical outlet. Cries from Salas’ youngest child awakened her. She climbed out of a window with her children.
Since then, Salas has lived in a small apartment in Salisbury with her children, using nearly all her money to pay for food, rent, storage fees for donated items, construction costs for her new home and a mortgage on the one she lost.
“The biggest thing we do now is walk the flea market,” she said. “We don’t buy anything. We just walk it.”
Her children range in age from 2 to 18. They still call it the “burnt house,” she said, walking around the foundation.
Salas goes there about once a day. Sometimes she and her kids join in with friends to help with what they can around the boarded-up home.
The boards are recently added, Salas said, after copper piping was stolen from the basement.
“The closer we get to completion, the more problems we have,” she said.
The one thing Salas has refused to give up is her education.
“I’ve been staying in school because no matter what happens, education is priority,” Salas said.
For Salas, getting her bachelor’s degree in information technology security from the University of Phoenix will be the silver lining in the last two years.
Salas and her children used to go bowling, to the movies and out for dinner.
Now her children watch DVDs borrowed from friends. Eating at Rowan Helping Ministries has become routine.
After the fire, Salas said, she realized it would be a while before she got back on her feet.
“We went to the Salvation Army,” she said. “It was so hard to swallow my pride and get something off the shelves.”
But despite the family’s self-imposed budget restrictions, the house is at least $7,000 away from being finished and the bills are continuing to roll in.
“I’m actually late on March payments at both locations,” she said.
About a year ago, the single mother of five began attending Immanuel Presbyterian Church in China Grove.
Linda Hatley, a counselor at the church who works with new families, said Salas’ values and growth in the church have been inspirational.
“She just tries so hard, Hatley said.
When Salas began coming to the church last summer, Hatley asked about her schooling.
“I said why not just put it on hold until you get in the house,” Hatley recalled. “She said, ‘I want my children to see how important education is and how it will help them secure a good job, and that they do not need to be on public assistance.’ ”
Despite losing her daughter’s beauty trophies, her associate’s degree certificate and nearly every family photo she had, Salas said she’s “grateful” for what’s left.
The worst may not be over, she said, but she wants to set an example for her children through the worst time of her life.
“I have to for the survival of my kids,” she said. “One day, I hope I get that pride back.”
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Donations to help Salas and her family can be sent to Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 365 Brown Road, China Grove, 28023. Contact the church at 704-855-5555 for more information.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.