|Red Cross volunteer David Bell talks to David Vrba inside the remains of the family home on Sunday.|
"I found a photo of grandpa," he said. "Do you want it?"
"Of course," Cheryl Vrba replied.
While no one was home Saturday night, a fire raged through the ground floor of the structure before neighbors noticed the smoke and called 911. Fanned by a wall unit air conditioner left on to keep the house cool, the flames raced up the stairs, taking virtually everything in their way.
Riverside County Fire crews had the blaze contained within a half hour, but by then, the house was gutted. Cheryl, her husband William and eight other family members had lost virtually everything and are now homeless.
"It's totally gone," Cheryl said, standing inside the shell of her burned-out house as family members sorted through the rubble. "You think about all the things that can't be replaced. I had a quilt that my girlfriend who passed away made for me as the last thing she made. Our clothes, the kids' toys ... everything is gone."
Vrba family members realize they are fortunate no one was injured. Cheryl and William's two sons, David and Cody (pictured below right), were at the movies with a friend. Most of the rest of the family was eating dinner at Carnitas Express on Newport Road when Cheryl got the call from a neighbor.
"I ran out and left the family sitting there," Cheryl said. "I was so confused, I just ran out. I'd like to thank the anonymous person who paid for my family's meal, plus Upper Crust Pizza for sending over three pizzas for us after the firemen told them what happened."
According to Cheryl, officials believe the fire started with an electrical short in the living room near the TV and enterainment center hookups. According to David, the home was equipped with smoke alarms that apparently functioned properly, but were not heard because no one was home.
The Vrba family will need a lot of help over the next few months. The local chapter of the American Red Cross has placed them in a hotel, but the stay is limited to three days. The family has also been given a small amount of cash by the Red Cross to buy food and some clothes, perhaps enough to last a week.
David Bell, a captain with the Disaster Action Team of Red Cross, and four other Red Cross volunteers spent most of Saturday night on the site and helping to place the family temporarily. He said the best way to handle donations from the community is through a source outside the Red Cross, whose donations usually go into a general relief fund.
On Monday, Menifee 24/7 will publish information about how residents can send in cash donations for a special relief fund that will be set up for the family. We will also have details on where and when clothes, food, toys and other items can be dropped off. Menifee 24/7 is working with church groups and other community organizations to establish an appropriate form of relief for the family.
In addition to William and Cheryl Vrba and their two sons, other residents of the home included a daughters and her husband, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren -- ages 7, 2 and 8 weeks.
"The 7-year-old is devastated," Cheryl said. "Everything she knows is gone. The 2-year-old was up until 4:30 this morning, saying, 'My house is broken and my milk is in there.' It's heartbreaking."
Cheryl said the family has insurance and she expects the house to be rebuilt over the next several months. The family is meeting with an insurance adjuster Monday to see what provisions they might have for temporary housing. Meanwhile, they are trying to put their lives back together and deal with the memories of what they had just a day ago.
Cheryl and her husband bought the home about two years ago and moved in by themselves, but soon took several family members in.
"In this economy, you have to combine resources and do things like that," she said."The kids can't afford to do it by themselves. We thank those who are helping us, but when you're talking about 10 people, that's a lot of help to ask for."
Those who would like to offer assistance or who have questions about this situation are invited to email firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will respond as soon as possible. Details about methods of assistance will be published here on Monday.