At the turn of the 20th century, an old fort stood on a low hill near the river that curves through the west side of Arroyo Hondo and empties into the Río Grande. It had adobe walls 30-inches thick.
Around its foundation, Narciso Arellano built a home in the 1920s, where two more generations of his family would be raised, with many of the family's children born within the very walls he had built.
Today the Arellano home is just a memory.
Five fire departments, other county agencies and one of Arellano's grandchildren, Jake Arellano, rushed to save the house as a fire tore through the structure Sunday night (Feb. 16). As the inferno grew, their efforts quickly turned toward preventing the fire from spreading to other structures. The home was determined to be a total loss by Monday morning (Feb. 17).
Taos County Fire Chief Michael Cordova said the cause of the fire remains undetermined, but Arellano believes, "It had to have been the wood stove."
He said his brother Richard - the only one who still lived at the family home - went to place some wood in the stove Sunday night, but when he opened the door, "the fire jumped out and engulfed everything," Arellano said.
"It just spread so rapidly that by the time [Richard] went to the sink to get water, [the house] was already engulfed right in front of him," he went on. "He was lucky he was able to get out."
While Richard Arellano was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene, Jake Arellano worked to assist the firefighters with hauling hoses and oxygen tanks around the burning home.
"Every time they thought it was contained, it just got worse," Arellano said, adding that the experience has convinced him to join his local volunteer fire department.
"Finally, on the east side of the house, they decided to go in and were able to control it," he continued.
On Monday, Arellano's cousin was walking around the hill and saw fire still burning inside the remains of the structure. He used a shovel to toss some mud on the flames, but it wasn't enough.
"They had to call the firefighters back out," Arellano said. "They had to get a backhoe to tear the rest of it down."
Arellano doesn't live in the area anymore, but three of his 11 siblings - four of whom were born in the home - still do.
"We had a great childhood growing up. It was just a nice beautiful home," said Nadine Vigil, Arellano's sister and the director at Taos International School.
Vigil said her grandfather built the front part of the house. "Then my dad got married and started having children," she said. "He added on more rooms and more rooms."
Jake Arellano and his brothers, too, helped add on to the home.
"Everything was just so surreal and sad," he said. "Knowing that everything that my mom and dad and grandpa and grandma and so on had done for us years and years past -- in a matter of hours it was all down and gone. That's where it really hit me."
His brothers brought their wives and "everyone was just so shocked. They wanted to go to the rubble and pick out something, a memento, from the house where we all grew up."
Arellano said he already has plans to rebuild.
The Arellano family has set up a GoFundMe page. It can be accessed at bit.ly/2HAsRHz.
Taos News digital editor Mustafa Stefan Dill and photographer Morgan Timms contributed to this report.
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