Columbia Heights duplex fire victim remembered by family

Dulce Santibanez’s family life is forever changed, after tragedy struck in Columbia Heights early on May 31.

Dulce’s family home was wrecked, and her uncle Norberto Santamaria died at the hospital after flames and smoke consumed their duplex on Circle Terrace Boulevard Northeast.

Now, Norberto Santamaria is being remembered as a great family man. He lived alone in half of his duplex, and his family says the fire originated in his kitchen.

"He was upstairs sleeping and he eventually got up and tried to make his way downstairs. He fell and just stayed there," Santibanez told FOX 9. "It hits me in waves, I’m okay and then I remember that I’m never going to see him again."

On the other side of the duplex, Dulce’s mother, three sisters, and her stepfather could’ve been badly hurt as well.

"I couldn’t really see much other than smoke and fog… I was confused and disoriented," sister Naima Montieo said. "If we just inhaled most of [the smoke], we probably would’ve passed too."

Naima’s 14-year-old twin sister is credited with hearing something in the night and alerting the oblivious family.

"That’s kind of when they saw that it was smoke filled, and that’s when the fire alarms went off, so she was the one who heard it first and saw the smoke," Santibanez said.

Her family lost most of its belongings to the fire.

"We’re going to kind of have to start from scratch," Santibanez finished.

Norberto Santamaria did not have life insurance. His family is trying to raise money to have his body cremated.

The Columbia Heights Fire Department says the cause of the fire remains under investigation.