Community rallies for family left homeless by fire
by David Mendez
Two South Redondo houses were damaged in a fire that spread between neighboring homes on Friday night, leaving one family searching for a new place to live.
Tessa Bodey was out with her dog on their evening walk around 4:50 p.m. when she saw a small plume of smoke rising from a home just west of Pacific Coast Highway on Garnet Street.
“The front door was open, and I asked the woman inside if something was cooking if she was frying a turkey or something because there was a lot of smoke,” Bodey said. “She ran back and said that a candle was left burning and that her house was on fire.”
Bodey called 911. The fire intensified, shattering windows in the home as Redondo Beach Firefighters arrived, Bodey said.
Patrick Fallon, a professional news photographer, was driving along Pacific Coast Highway when he saw the plume of smoke. He jumped out of his car and began knocking on doors.
“I went next door and started knocking; no response, so I went around the back and could see there was movement, an older woman on her iPad,” Fallon said.
The woman was reluctant to leave her home because she wanted to find her cat. As Fallon watched the fire spread to her home, during a minute he said felt like an eternity, he and another bystander finally convinced the woman to leave without her cat.
Diane Williams, in a Facebook comment on Easy Reader, identified herself as the “older woman with the iPad. “Thank you, Patrick, my hero! You are in my heart forever.”
In a second Facebook post, she wrote, “Thank you RBFD. I found my precious Quincy. As I sat on my couch with a flashlight, I called for her, within 5 minutes….she was cuddling me…
We are all safe. Thank you, Redondo neighbors for all your love and caring.”
According to RBFD Division Chief Robert Rappaport, the first home suffered heavy fire damage to 30 to 50 percent of the structure, along with heavy smoke damage. Fire at the second home was contained quickly by firefighters and by sprinklers throughout the attic and second floor.
Though initially, an unattended candle was thought to be at fault, Rappaport said the cause of the fire is still undetermined. No civilians were injured. A firefighter suffered a minor ankle injury.
Brooke Owens was the woman at home in the first house. She’s not sure what the cause of the fire was, and she denied that she said it was caused by an unattended candle. No one had been in the back of the home for more than an hour, she said.
“I’m in shock. One minute we’re OK, the next…oh gosh,” Owens said.
The fire is a tremendous setback both for her and for her family. She’s the owner of Brooke’s Flowers, a shop that’s a successor to the earlier, well-loved Oops-A-Daisy flower shop she worked at years earlier. Owens, who had worked in flower shops around the South Bay and for decades, took over the shop in early 2016 to make sure that Redondo would be served by a local florist.
She has often quietly donated flowers and services to those in need, such as the family of Ciara Smith, in the wake of Smith’s death earlier this year. On Thanksgiving Day, the shop was shut down early to provide dinner for local homeless people.
“She’s been doing it since she took over the store…my mom and I have always felt for people who have nowhere to go…that’s a holiday to spend with family and other people. We don’t have a big family, so why not?” Owens’s daughter, Megan Golberendji said. “It’s a cruel irony – doing that, and 24 hours later we’re homeless.”
The Redondo Beach Firefighters Association’s Community Relief Fund helped with two nights in a local hotel. Now the three – mother, daughter, and Owens’s fiance – are staying with friends while Owens works on finding a more permanent home.
Two crowdfunding campaigns were opened within days of the fire. The first, to help the family get back on their feet, raised more than $13,600 in three days. A second, intended to help Golberendji restart her fledgling clothing business, raised more than $1,300 in two days. Other donations of clothes and toiletries have been dropped off at Brooke’s Flowers, where Owens is continuing to work. (“People still need flowers,” Golberendji said.)
“The support of the community has been unreal,” Owens said. “The phone is ringing off the hook. It’s a huge blessing for [Megan] to see how kind people are.”
For more information on the crowdfunding campaigns, see gofundme.com/mshkm-brookes-house-fire or gofundme.com/megans-closet.