Devastating house fire in Buena Park

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Jose and Erica Rodriguez awoke to what they thought was the sound of fireworks, but it wasn’t.  The homeowners at 7420 Apache Drive, were sleeping in the master bedroom whose wall is connected to the garage.

Jose and Erica Rodriguez awoke to what they thought was the sound of fireworks, but it wasn’t.  The homeowners at 7420 Apache Drive, were sleeping in the master bedroom whose wall is connected to the garage.

“I heard the noise, but I thought it was kids with fireworks, so I didn’t want to get up,” said Erica. “My husband got up and went outside to check the garage.”

“He opened the garage door and saw a small fire,” Erica continued. “He shouted for us to get out of the house. What we thought was fireworks was an explosion in the garage.”

It was 11:30 pm, Wednesday, July 19, when Jose, his wife Erica, and their three children, Christian, 18, Perla, 16, and Karen, 10 were asleep. Their lives were all going to change in a matter of a few minutes.

Firefighters from Buena Park arrived soon after, but the garage was fully engulfed. A battle to drench the inferno ensued as flames reached high above the home.

“Just as the firefighters were leaving, my husband saw more smoke and called them back,” said Erica. “They put their coats back on and cut the roof open over our bedroom.”

The family slept at a neighbors’ house and were back early the next morning. “We had to call the fire department again around 9:00 am when more smoke started.”

“I was so frustrated when contractors started showing up at 7:00 am,” shared Erica. “They came with photos of other jobs they had done and wanted to get the job at our house. I couldn’t believe it.”

Amazingly, two people who showed up were exactly what the family needed. They were advocates notified by the fire department.

“We make sure they have a place to stay,” said Edward Yagubyan, from Counterpoint Public Adjusting. “We get them set up in a hotel for a few weeks, then arrange a furnished home for them.”

Advocates help a family in a situation such as a fire as they navigate the challenges of insurance claims, contractors, possible looters and other problems that come with the aftermath of a disaster. The advocates who came to the Rodriguez home are two of only 156 in the entire state of California.

“We help them until they are back in their house,” said Yagubyan. “We continue to help if they have any problems with the work that is done, the new appliances, or any problems.”

The big question was ‘what caused the fire?’

“Apparently, it was a gas leak. The Gas Company came out and told us that was the cause,” said Erica. “Our car was destroyed. It was a 2014 Denali Acadia, fully loaded. We just bought it four months ago.”

“The paint on one side of my truck that was in the driveway is bubbled from the heat, and our new garage door is destroyed,” said Jose. “We just finished putting in some new plants in the front yard and they are burned up.”

“Thinking back, I remember smelling gas on Sunday. I looked around and checked the stove, but the smell went away,” said Erica. “These houses were built in 1959, so the gas lines are old. If anyone smells gas, call the Gas Company immediately and get it checked.”

“A few years ago, one of my neighbors had a gas leak, too. She had called the Gas Company, but was told everything was okay. Four months later, she was doing remodeling in her kitchen and they had a small explosion, but got the fire out quickly. So, that’s two houses in our neighborhood.”

The family is grateful none of them was hurt, however, anything that was not destroyed by fire, was permanently ruined by smoke and water. Their clothes, shoes, school supplies, furniture, beds, and everything they own is lost.

“I had to borrow these shoes from my neighbor since I was barefoot and in pajamas when I left the house,” said Erica, her voice shaking. The tragedy for the entire family is not only the loss of their possessions, but the loss of their feeling of safety.

“It’s surreal,” said Christian, who is supposed to start college at Chapman in a few weeks. “It feels like a dream,” shared Perla, a student at Kennedy High School. “I’m waiting to wake up,” said Karen, a student at Corey Elementary.

Luckily, insurance will cover much of the loss, but Jose, who works at a tire store, and Erica, who works for Disney, will have to start over. In the meantime, neighbors and others who want to help the family, can contact St. Pius Catholic Church, 7691 Orangethorpe Avenue, or 714-522-2193.

Gift cards for Target will help them get school and work clothes, school supplies, groceries and other necessities. Gift cards to local restaurants will help since they won’t be able to cook at the hotel. Greeting cards of support will help cheer them as they rebuild their lives. Furniture and large items are not needed as there is nowhere to store them. Contact the church with questions.

The following article was featured in the July 28 Buena Park Independent.

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