After a New Year’s Day fire at their apartment in Oakland, Michael Duarte and his 3-year-old daughter, Danielle, are starting over again. The heat and smoke raced through the entire unit in less than an hour ruining nearly all their belongings.
Before the blaze, Duarte had beaten the odds. A streak of bad luck had forced the then 28-year-old dad onto the streets when Danielle (or Dani, for short) was an infant.
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In a short span of time, he lost Danielle’s mother, his home and his job. Almost overnight, Mike and his daughter were homeless in Los Angeles. The father-daughter pair found no help at shelters, and often slipped into hotel lobbies to spend the night. But luck changed when Duarte re-connected with distant cousins in Oakland. With their help he was able to land a steady job as a building manager, find daycare for Dani, and after a year of searching: a coveted apartment on International Boulevard.
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“If you have a kid with you, don't give up,” said Duarte, who was featured in the NBC Bay Area digital series, No Man’s Land, about single fathers who struggle to find services for their families.
But last Saturday, as Duarte was returning home, he couldn’t open the front door and had to kick it to get inside. Then, Mike and Dani saw the damage. “She was saying ‘daddy my house burned up!’”
The Oakland Fire Department says it will be two weeks before their forensic analysts can determine the cause of the fire. They do not have an estimate for the cost of the damage. Mike Hunt, Chief of Staff at Oakland Fire said, “This was a single alarm incident … the call for the fire came in at 12:48 p.m.”
Perhaps luck was on Duarte’s side after all. He remembers leaving the apartment with Dani at 12:15 p.m., not very long before the fire began. Duarte points out that the door where the fire burned is the only way in and out of the apartment. “We would not have made it out because of where the fire was raging. We would’ve died,” said Duarte.
The young father says he’s in a much better place today than he was two years ago.
“You can go through all these things and give up in misery or you can take it in stride and build as much as possible.” Duarte said his employer has helped him with a temporary living space until the middle of January, and he and Dani are half way to their goal in their GoFundMe: https://gofund.me/b950619c. Through all the adversity, Duarte credits his daughter Dani for giving him the strength to persevere.
“I'll tell her. You're the reason. You're the reason why we're here. You're the reason why I have kept going. She's what keeps me going every single day," he said.
Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter with NBC Bay Area. To contact her about this story or another email her firstname.lastname@example.org
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