Heather Mecham stepped over the large chunks of insulation that had fallen from her ceiling into heaps on the floor as she led a neighbor into her Paso Robles home Wednesday.
The thick smell of smoke still lingered in the Parkview Lane duplex nearly a week after flames gutted the unit next door on the afternoon of Dec. 11.
“My whole life is here,” Mecham said of the home she and husband Jeremy — the son of San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Frank Mecham — have owned for 10 years.
“But we know it could be worse. Much worse. It’s just such an upside-down, world-turning event.”
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While the other unit was deemed a total loss, firefighters saved the Mecham’s half of the duplex from the flames.
However, as 25 firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze, water and smoke pushed through their attic and into their house. The family computer was ruined, and the floors and carpet were flooded ankle-deep. Smoke likely destroyed many of their belongings, she said.
The three people inside her neighbors’ unit were at home when the fire started, according to the Paso Robles Department of Emergency Services. They escaped and were later moved to temporary housing, officials said. The Tribune was unable to reach them for comment.
“Luckily, we’re able to stay at my mother-in-law’s,” Mecham said.
Firefighters contained the blaze within about 30 minutes, and no injuries were reported. The cause is still under investigation. There’s about $250,000 total in estimated losses for both units and their contents, officials said.
Contractors with the Mecham’s homeowners insurance are still determining what’s salvageable. On Wednesday, the mother of three was pulling out what she could, including family photos and jewelry. Their house is red-tagged, so they can’t live in it until an inspector establishes that it’s structurally sound. In the backyard, a fence between the two units was partially knocked down, and yellow caution tape lined the rear of the neighbors’ half. Its roof is blackened and jagged. Among the debris were a large cracked TV on its side, a charred bookshelf and a basketball hoop.
On Dec. 11, Mecham had planned to go Christmas shopping after work. Instead, her father told her that her house was on fire. Her children, ages 3, 8 and 12, were at school and her husband was on a job.
“I immediately thought, ‘Did I leave the iron on? The coffee pot?’ ” she said.
When they arrived at their eastern Paso Robles home, the grassy area across the street was filled with people watching her neighbors’ house burn, she said.
The Mechams weren’t allowed back in until 30 minutes after the fire was out.
Her husband entered the house first.
“He said everything was destroyed and said I probably didn’t want to go in there,” she said. “I was basically numb, but I had to see.”
When she walked into the bedroom, which had closed doors, a wall of smoke hit her in the face — “My eyes, nose and throat were immediately burning,” she recalled.
In the days that followed, Mecham experienced a wave of different emotions.
“I’ve been mad. Sad. Scared,” she said. “I’ve probably had every emotion you can have.”
Her neighbors and friends, and her children’s friends, have shown the family an outpouring of support. They’ve been given clothes, hand-made blankets and dinners.
“It’s so hard to accept help,” she said. “We know there are so many other people out there during this time of year that need it more than us. We just don’t know what to do. Nothing like this has ever happened to us before.”
How you can help
A donation account has been set up at Heritage Oaks Bank on 12th Street in Paso Robles. Any donations the family doesn’t end up using will be donated to the Red Cross, Heather Mecham said.