"Entering the house, I was trying to see what was salvageable," said Erika Mejia, who created the painting for an art final at the University of Houston. "It was burnt on the back [only.] Walking out, everyone started clapping in awe of the painting being so clean. This was something I worked really hard on too."
According to the Houston Fire Department, firefighters arrived at the home on 643 Hurley St. around 10 p.m. to find heavy flames engulf the one-story house completely. It had started in the attic, investigators said.
Woman on losing home before Christmas: 'It was my life'
Erika said the family was sitting down to eat dinner when they heard a loud noise that shook the whole house.
"When we opened the door, everything went black," she said.
Erika had lived in the home for 23 years. She, along with her mother, sister, brother and one of their dogs, were able to escape without injuries, but another dog they rescued three years ago, Koko, didn't survive.
"We had to go back for my mom because she couldn't step away from the house," Erika said. "Helping her separate herself from the house was very difficult."
Her family and she are currently separated, staying with different relatives until they can decide what to do next. She said her school and others in the community have reached out to offer support during the difficult time. Erika's sister also set up a GoFundMe to help cover costs of the damage. Although they lost everything, Erika said having the painting, which Bregman signed, is helping to push her forward.
"If you're seeing this Alex, I appreciate it," she said. "If you can just share and know we love you. You're what's pushing us forward."