Angel Fiorini, mother of three, woke up one night struggling to breathe. She quickly realized it wasn’t her—there was a “strange chemical smell,” and it was coming from the smoke seeping in through the crack under her bedroom door.
Something was on fire.
Fiorini jumped out of bed to throw open the door—and once she did she saw that her under-renovation home was being consumed by flames.
Her children—7-year-old Gianna, 3-year-old Vinnie, and 17-month-old Rosalie—were all still asleep.
The bedroom was one of the few finished rooms in the house, and her two youngest were there with her. Gianna was completely unaware of the fire, dreaming away in her own bed in a separate room.
There was no other adult in the house. Aaron, the father of the children, was out with friends. This all was happening the day before Angel and Aaron’s 15-year anniversary.
Seeing the fire, Angel’s “heart dropped to my stomach—flames were blazing from door to ceiling.”
She grabbed Vinnie and Rosalie, and started thinking about how she could come back to get Gianna.
“There was not a doubt in my mind that I’d be able to go back in and get her,” Angel wrote.
Because the house was still being renovated, many of the walls were not up yet—making it easy for the flames to run from end to end across the single-story home.
The frantic escape woke the children up—they were screaming and trying to hide their faces as Angel carried them in her arms, trying to make it to the front door.
And then Vinnie slipped.
He fell from her arms to the hot floor and screamed. Angel had to drag her “babies on the ground by their arms into the front yard.”
She left them, sobbing and soot-stricken, running back into the 20-foot-tall fire so she could rescue Gianna. The heat was so intense the pressure of it was physically forcing her out.
“There was an intense, crazy energy—like waves pushing me back,” Angel told Good Housekeeping. Then she heard popping sounds—the house wasn’t going to last long.
But there was no way she was going to leave her eldest in the house while she stood in the front yard, wondering.
“I had this rush of maternal strength—I would walk through fire for my children,” Angel said.
Angel didn’t just walk. She ran into the house, made it to Gianna’s bedroom, and grabbed her before she started to make her escape once again.
She had heard Gianna faintly call out “Ma”—and if she hadn’t, Angel doesn’t think she would have been able to find her so quickly.
“I’m so proud of how strong she was,” Angel recalled. “I pulled her down to the floor underneath me and dragged her out.”
“I could feel the skin melting off my hands,” Angel said. She was crawling her way through the house, and she could feel bits of molten material falling in bits and chunks from the house, onto her back, onto her head. The house would cave in soon.
Then she remembered that for some reason, she whispered in her daughter’s ear: “You are God’s gracious gift to Mommy.”
“I don’t know if I said it to give her more courage or because I thought we weren’t going to make it out alive.”
She made it to the front door, and then the smoke engulfed them.
“The last thing I remember is putting my hand on that doorknob,” she said. “That’s when I passed out.”
Unbeknownst to Angel, a man had just driven by the house—he was taking a route he hadn’t in four years—when he saw two young children in front of a flaming house about to collapse in on itself.
He ran toward the chaos, and saw the toddler trying to crawl back into the house.
“His feet were inside the door and his head out. All I could think was, ‘Where is Mom??'” recounted Matt Burson, a nurse at a psychiatric ward—who luckily had been a former fireman and ambulance worker.
There was a 6-foot fence surrounding the house, but Burson kicked open the gate, moved the toddler to safety, and then rushed inside the burning house without equipment or backup despite his experience and training.
“I couldn’t have lived with myself if I hadn’t,” he said.
And inside, a few feet away, he found Angel unconscious, skin black and burnt, barely breathing. As the two young children were already outside, Burson was confused at why the mother was still stuck in the house. Then he heard Gianna moan, and located the little girl a ways from her mother.
“It was like a sign from God,” he said.
He got the mother and daughter out, and shortly after they regained consciousness—and it was painful.
“I have never seen suffering like that where there was nothing I could do,” Stephanie Schurter, a neighbor, told Good Housekeeping.
“Their skin was so badly burned that I couldn’t hug them, couldn’t wrap something around them.”
They were screaming, and Angel and Gianna had black, burnt skin hanging off from them.
“It hurts, Mommy. It hurts so much!” she remembered her daughter screaming. So even through her pain, she stayed calm and sang, in order to soothe Gianna.
Burson texted Aaron after getting them out of the house:
This is an emergency. Call now. House burned down. All alive but wife is burned but talking.
The paramedics arrived to airlift Angel and Gianna to the hospital, and Burson remembered that from his experience as a nurse her chance of survival was probably 5 percent at best.
Meanwhile, Aaron was on the road—and his heart stopped when he pulled over to read the text.
“I was shaking, hoping it was a wrong number,” Aaron remembered. When he called Burson, he told him to head straight to the hospital.”
“I turned around and ran every red light.”
Angel had severe injuries all over, and burns covered 43 percent of her body. For days, she was laying in the hospital with her arms suspended, skin swollen, and breathing through a ventilator.
She endured surgery after surgery—three skin grafts—and intensive medication and care for five weeks.
Gianna’s burns weren’t nearly as severe, as Angel had covered her through the worst of it, but she had inhaled a lot of smoke.
Aaron and other family members stayed by their side at all hours, and a local firefighters’ organization provided them with a small apartment nearby. A family friend quit her job to help take care of their kids.
The community came together to raise money for the family, and multiple efforts pulled in a total of over $45,000 plus a mini-van donated by a local dealership. They were even given a mobile home by people they had never met before.
Recovery wasn’t easy—Gianna would have panic attacks being away from Angel—and there are bad days and good days. But the beautiful, loving support that poured in from the community—and beyond—was tremendous. And there were other signs of hope: after visiting the burned down house one day, Angel found a photo, burned around the edges, of Aaron and Gianna as a toddler.
“It’s been beautiful to see people come together for a family in need,” Angel said. “I kept thinking, Why us? I still don’t know.”
The house may be gone, but the memories are strong, and the family has each other.
“The real thing that matters is that we’re alive, and that we’re together,” Angel said.
Throughout the recovery, Aaron was by her every step of the way. He changed the dressing on her burns every single day.
For 15 years, the couple had been together and content with not being married, but after months of overseeing her recovery, he had a question to ask.
On January 20, Aaron proposed to Angel.
They got married in July.
“I have a really strong desire to make a difference from all of this. My life wasn’t just spared for no reason,” Fiorini said. “It’s something that gives me strength, knowing what I’ve overcome and what I’ve been able to fight through.”