For now, lifelines for Dan Tower of Cambria are a used cell phone, donated clothes, shoes and other support from friends who are rallying around him after he lost virtually everything in a residential fire early Friday, Jan. 4.
He’s living temporarily with friend Zale Schuster, who on Wednesday shrugged off his efforts for his friend, saying “he’s my buddy.” Those efforts included giving Tower the cell phone on which the fire survivor now relies so heavily as he tries to rebuild his life.
Schuster’s tidy Lodge Hill home is a mere couple of blocks away from the burned-out shell of the cabin on Wales Road, the home Tower had been renting for about five years — two blocks, but a world away from the pervasive horror that a home-destroying fire creates.
The yellow fire-scene tape surrounding the cabin probably is the first clue that something is awry.
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The tape draws the eye past the moss-feathery oak tree branches that shield from sight much of the set-back home. But then there’s the blackened structure, the blown-out windows and that heart-breaking, gut-clenching smell of a structure fire, all made more graphic and tragic-looking by recent days of rain.
The smell is the stench of fire residue, burned wood, metal and other elements, yes, but also of Tower’s lost treasures, hopes and dreams, of the radio dj’s vast collection of music CDs and vinyls he used on the air, of his beloved guitar, his collection of select rocks and minerals, his plans for the future.
The 71-year-old retiree says he’s dazed and overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of how much there is to do now, and how little he has to do it with. The computer is gone, and so is the list of passwords he needs to reestablish his email and other services.
“I don’t know what I need yet,” Tower said. “I’m just coming out of the fog now.”
Awakened by ‘thick smoke’
He was awakened just after midnight to the blaring beeps of a smoke alarm and a room filled with “thick smoke coming from the bathroom. It was heavy, yellow with a strong acrid smell.”
He grabbed his portable house phone, ran outside and “like a madman” and grabbed a hose to run water on the back of the house while he called 911. Then he tripped over a rock and fell, hitting his head on another rock.
A medic at the scene said later that Tower had a slight concussion. The golf-ball-sized knot on his forehead has shrunken now.
William Hollingsworth, chief of Cambria Fire Department, said the call came in about 12:25 a.m. Friday. Captain Dan McCrain and his crew responded, and they were able to confine the blaze to the house. Mutual-aid agencies that responded included Cal Fire, Morro Bay Fire, Templeton Fire, Cambria Community Healthcare District’s ambulance crew and the sheriff’s department.
The fire was out by 3:30 a.m., but Reserve Engineer Tim Murdoch stayed at the scene all night, to preserve the chain of evidence and be there to do battle again if the fire rekindled.
Hollingsworth and others returned at daylight and spent several hours investigating. As of late Tuesday, he was still listing the cause as “undetermined” and the case as “still under investigation.”
The house is a total loss.
‘This community really shines’
Tower’s also overcome by the generosity of friends and strangers. They’ve stocked him up well with clothes and shoes. “I’ve got more shoes now than I’ve ever had before in my life,” Tower said wryly.
Friend Tania Stewart also established an online fund at www.gofundme.com/home-and-belongings-a-total-loss to raise money to help the self-described “car guy” from Colorado get back on his financial feet after such a devastating loss, which included all his tools and supplies for doing “wood graining on metal dashes for antique cars and hot rods.”
As of Friday morning, the GoFundMe page showed more than $4,000 of the $20,000 goal had been donated in amounts as small as $20 and as much as $300.
The Red Cross, too, has been “wonderful,” Tower said, “showing me programs to help me out.”
All of it helps when you have so little left. He didn’t have renters’ insurance.
“I didn’t even know what a GoFundMe was before,” Tower said.
But the donations are “going to give me a little bit more wiggle room to get back on my feet. This community really shines. I’m so impressed with the response.”
For instance, he stopped at Central Coast Music in Morro Bay to update his friend Eddie Frawley, who promptly loaned Tower one of the shop’s guitars.
“All this has opened my eyes to all the good in people,” Tower said emotionally. “It fills that vacuum, that place in your heart and fulfills you as a human being.”