It was freezing outside — ice was thick on streets and trees — and the electricity kept going off at the Leota house.
Seventeen family members lived in the three-bedroom home, but some of the children and young adults were staying elsewhere on the night of Dec. 6 because it was so cold.
About midnight, Semisi Leota, the father of the house, was awakened by flames in his bedroom.
“My room is on fire!” he yelled, running from the room. The fire spread quickly as family members scrambled to get out.
“The fire was popping,” said Piti Alaiasa, one of the Leota’s daughters. “Windows breaking. There was smoke. We just got out with whatever we had on.”
Standing outside — wrapped in blankets provided by neighbors — they watched as the house burned, their gathering spot gone.
Still, they remained upbeat and were determined to rebuild.
“We didn’t lose anything,” Alaiasa said. “We have each other.”
On Friday, after a grassroots effort by volunteers and friends, the Leotas returned to to their home — now five bedrooms and fully refurbished, complete with a stocked pantry and refrigerator.
Seeing the inside of the new house brought tears to many members of the family.
“I feel great — so blessed, so thankful for all these friends,” said Laifa Leota, who is better known as Grandma. “This is so nice.”
Everyone is welcome at Grandma’s house.
And it’s a full house.
There are 17 relatives that typically reside at 519 Aransas Dr., including 10 grandchildren and great-grandchildren between the ages of 1 and 24. But no matter how full the Leotas’ home gets, they always make room for guests.
The couple has welcomed numerous teens into their home, always willing to listen, offering advice when needed and sometimes a place to sleep.
“We love everyone who walks in our life,” said Alaissa, explaining that many teens have called her dad, “Papa,” and her mother, “Grandma.”
“They are just so helpful for us because of our students who are in need,” said Natalie Fiefia, a ninth-grade English teacher at Euless Junior High. “Grandma’s house has been a house who take in the children who are in need and help them out.”
That favor was returned as work was done at their damaged home; they slept and ate with relatives.
It’s a celebration
On Friday, the Leota family celebrated in a big way.
Friends, volunteers and members of Euless’ Polynesian community came out to help usher in a new beginning. A disc jockey played Stevie Wonder and Kool & The Gang songs as people feasted on a roasted pig, chop suey, yuka and Texas-style barbeque.
“It’s a blessing,” said Laifa Leota, 64.
Grandchildren, wiping tears away, brought their friends to see their new bedrooms.
“When the house burned down, it was just one of the hardest things that my family had to go through,” Ashlee Maumalanga , 18, a senior at Trinity High School.
Maumalanga said the family had been living in the house for about 20 years.
The fire turned out to be a blessing in disguise, she said.
“I’m just happy for my grandparents because this is what they deserve,” Maumalanga said. “Financially we could never afford anything like this. It comes to show that God is so good.”
‘God sent us an army of angels’
A tree, heavy with ice, that had fallen on utility wires was blamed for the fire that destroyed the house.
“It was so sad,’ said Laifa Leota.
As day broke on Dec. 7, with the Metroplex at a virtual standstill and covered with a blanket of ice, people began to hear about the Leotas.
Aaron Strauser and his sister, Traci Day, were among those moved the Leotas tragic story.
Strauser, who owns No Problem!!! Services, a remodeling/restoration business in Watagua, got the project started and it quickly grew.
Day said volunteers filled the house with new furniture and helped expand the house’s footprint from about 1,500 to 2,100 square feet.
“We dreamed big,” Day said. “The house has changed since the fire.”
Besides the five bedrooms, the house has a den area with couches that fold out into extra beds.
“We are blessed,” said Alaiasa. “God sent us an army of angels to help our family.”