Grief and healing after Chesapeake, VA woman survives tragic fire

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — A Chesapeake family continues to heal and recover after surviving a tragic fire in Roanoke.

Christy and Zak Montoya were visiting their longtime family friends, Tom and Lindsay McKinnon, over the weekend of March 19. The Montoyas woke up to chaos as fire spread quickly through the McKinnon’s house.

“When I got to the second floor, I realized it was a dire emergency,” said Zak Montoya, who is a Norfolk firefighter.

The house was already filled with smoke when Christy tried to reach her two daughters, Bella and Gianna, and the McKinnons’ sons, Patrick and Logan.

Christy ran into a wall of fire, which knocked her down the stairs. At that point, Lindsay McKinnon had already rescued the Bella and Gianna.

“[Lindsay] knew Gianna was on the top bunk, so she grabbed Gianna, too, and put them both on their lap, and slid down the stairs, and then got them out back,” explained Zak.

All four adults tried to get to Patrick and Logan. But they couldn’t save them.

“That was the hardest thing for us to reconcile, the fact that [Lindsay] saved the lives of our kids, and we weren’t able to save the lives of hers,” said Zak.

“A lot of grief,” said Christy. “A lot of grief, because once I learned the details, to know that Lindsay saved my girls before she ever tried to save her boys, has just been the toughest part for me.”

Christy spent a few weeks at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. She was then transferred to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital for rehab and was released on Wednesday.

Christy is now able to recover at her home in Chesapeake. Family members are in town to provide extra help. She massages her skin grafts three times a day to keep them moisturized and soften the scar tissue. Her voice is still hoarse from having a tube down her throat in the hospital.

“My grief counselor said, all I can do is do one day at a time,” said Christy. “If I look at the whole big year, I’ll just feel like it’s insurmountable.”

While recovering in Winston-Salem, Christy said family and friends never left her side, including the McKinnons. Her family also has had a tremendous outpouring of support from local firefighters; as well as members of the community they had never met before.

“We had meals every day,” said Christy. “I had burn survivors that came and visited me. I probably had six people that just helped to guide me through what I was going to experience, what I was going to feel, and what the next phase looked like.”

Christy said the amount of help her family received has been humbling. Especially when she learned a YouCaring fundraiser was started to collect donations for her family. As of Thursday, more than $56,000 has been raised.

“It takes so much pressure off of you because I provide half of our income, and I can’t work,” said Christy.

Christy is a hair stylist for the Christian Broadcast Network, and does plan to go back to work as soon as possible. But she will have to take it slow, as she still has a long way to go before her hands are fully healed.

Christy said the donations have taken away pressure and stress during this difficult time for her family.

“The injuries are hard enough, and the nightmares, and stuff like that,” explained Christy. “It allows me the time to heal. So I’m just so thankful that I have that. And that Zak, too, can have some time to feel like he can be away from work before he goes back.”

“I’m just eternally grateful to every single person that has donated, given their time, their love, their prayers,” said Christy.

Zak also will got back to work as a firefighter.

Roanoke fire officials said Thursday they believe the fire to be accidental. The cause is still under investigation.

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