Flickers of hope: Help for San Luis Obispo fire victims

Alex and George Nino De Rivera lost everything when a fire destroyed their longtime San Luis Obispo home in late February.

The brothers, who manage the family-owned Chilie Peppers restaurant on Broad Street, are now struggling to rebuild their lives.

Friends and family are reaching out to help and have established a relief fund at Wells Fargo Bank at the Marigold Center shopping center.

Peter Yelda, a guitar maker and musician, lives next door and has known the brothers for 10 years.

Yelda and local musician Bob Liepman are working to plan a day of music at the restaurant to raise more money in the coming weeks.

“We were thinking about getting a concert hall, but then we decided to just do what we do and playmusic all day at the restaurant,” Yelda said.

“We want to help Alex and his family,” Yelda said.

The Feb. 18 fire — said to have been started by a soldering iron that was left plugged in at a rear outbuilding — moved quickly through the small, early 20th century home that the brothers had rented for nearly 15 years.

The house, located directly behind Chilie Peppers, was ideal for the long hours they spent at the restaurant.

Over the years, customers have grown to know not only the restaurant’s Mexican food but the family as well.

Jaime Lopes of San Luis Obispo has been a longtime patron of the restaurant. He said he enjoys the authentic food and the restaurant’s ambience, such as a Mayan-themed mural and the outdoor patio filled with plants.

Lopes, who said his favorites there include the enchiladas and the fajitas, hopes the community will rally support for the family.

“They’ve been able to put together a nice cafe that people love, and they deserve support,” Lopes said.

Alex Nino De Rivera said he and his brother, both in their mid-50s, have been staying in motel rooms and depending on the charity of the Red Cross and the Mission Thrift Store for everyday items such as clothes and shoes.

They would like to move back into the house when it is rebuilt, but they are not sure how long that will take, he said.

He was working in the restaurant the night the fire broke out at his home.

“Someone told me the house was on fire,” he said. “I grabbed the fire extinguisher and ran over there. But the extinguisher was too small. I couldn’t do anything.”

He spent a recent weekend clearing charred and destroyed belongings from the house; the brothers feel responsible to help even though they don’t own the home.

“I never realized how beautiful that house was. It was just a house, nothing special,” he said. “Now I touch the walls and thank it for giving me shelter for so many years.”