Residents who lost their homes when a fire broke out Saturday in an Atascadero apartment complex returned to the scene Tuesday morning to pick through their few scattered belongings.
“This is what is left of my stuff,” Patty McCann said, standing over a pile of scorched and soaking wet clothes. Her upstairs apartment was one of four destroyed in the fire that broke out about 1 p.m. Saturday in the Bordeaux House Apartments complex near Atascadero State Hospital.
Meanwhile, neighbor Amber Pratt wept quietly when she found a gold necklace that her father had given her, one of the few possessions she was able to recover from her scorched and water-damaged apartment below McCann’s.“We have nothing,” Pratt said. “Everything we had is ruined. It’s been like being in a horror movie.”
The reactions ranged from tears to gallows humor as the now-homeless residents struggled to come to grips with their loss. McCann’s husband, Kenny Munhall, fought back tears as he recalled the intense anxiety from the fire that sent him to the hospital with chest pains.
“This just isn’t supposed to happen,” he said.
The next minute he was joking with the apartment complex managers as they walked by.
“Can I get the upper unit cheap?” he asked, gesturing to the charred remains of his apartment.
The area around the burned apartments Tuesday was still littered with singed and water-damaged furniture. It was cordoned off with caution tape, and a security guard stood watch. Firefighters had put potentially salvageable items in separate piles for each apartment; a letter written in chalk on a fence identified each of the piles.
Residents recalled the fear and panic they experienced as they were forced to flee their homes with just seconds to spare, escaping with only the clothes on their backs. They were shocked at how quickly the flames spread.
Pratt said she smelled smoke and heard people yelling outside. She then heard what sounded like an onrushing train or an earthquake.
She grabbed her 2-month-old daughter, Madilynn, and ran outside barefoot over sidewalks strewn with broken glass.
“There were crazy explosions going off,” she said. “I was in despair. My house was going to catch fire, I knew it. I was just freaking out.”
Firefighters soon arrived and began extinguishing the blaze. The Red Cross arranged for Pratt and the other displaced residents to have three nights in a motel and other aid.
In all, more than 20 people were displaced. Fire investigators said the blaze started on the balcony outside one of the upstairs units. They told residents it could be a couple of days before the cause is determined.
All the residents said they have been overwhelmed by the generosity of community members who have given clothes, food and other necessities to get them through the crisis.
“We have had people come and drop stuff off,” Pratt said. “So many people have helped.”
Pratt was relieved that her cat survived the fire despite being locked in the apartment.
She was able to rescue the injured pet from a veterinarian’s office, preventing it from being euthanized.
She said she has one regret: She didn’t have renters’ insurance to cover the cost of the lost personal items.
The owners of the complex have refunded a month’s rent and the insurance deposit to the fire victims and are helping them find new places to live. Pratt said she expects to move into a new apartment in the Dry Creek complex in Paso Robles today.
“The hardest part has been to accept when people are trying to help,” she said. “It’s a pride thing, I guess. I cannot tell you how thankful we are.”