Family sets up Gofundme account after they lose their home to fire

Fire roared through this window behind Cesar Velazquez, who rents the home that has been declared inhabitable. Post photo by Kyle Martin.

BY KYLE MARTIN
Daily Post Staff Writer

An East Palo Alto resident said he has nowhere to turn for help after his house caught fire and displaced his family and another family — 11 people in all.

Cesar Velazquez, who lives at 2081 Oakwood Drive at Bay Road, left a beef brisket smoking on his backyard barbecue overnight when he awoke on Christmas Eve morning to find the back of the house on fire.

Velazquez said a neighbor came knocking on his door at about 8 a.m. after they saw the
smoke coming from Velazquez’s home.

A portion of his home was burned and after firefighters put out the fire, Velazquez was informed his home was not longer habitable because of the damage.

“I don’t know who I can go to. And it’s a really bad situation. The pandemic is here,” Velazquez told the Post on Thursday. “I tried looking for help. I don’t know who can help me.”

He said he received a $100 gift card to Target from the East Palo Alto Police Department, and has connected with The American Red Cross for disaster assistance to help cover temporary housing costs. But other than that, “it’s really, really bad,” Velazquez said.

Velazquez said he rents the home from a landlord in Pasadena. He lives in the home with his wife, Maria, and their daughter, 17, and son, 13. He said they have found a place to stay with their friends in their living room, but wants to get a hotel room for his family while they figure out where to go next.

“Right now, I can’t do anything. I don’t have money, I don’t have a job,” Velazquez said.

He drives for Uber, but has not been making full-time wages during the pandemic.
Another family had been staying with them at the house during the fire, including another mother, father, a 2-year-old toddler and an infant who is two weeks old, he said.
“I don’t have a house right now,” Velazquez said. “This is so sad.”

Firefighters had to break a hole in the roof during the firefight, and Velazquez said his kitchen and bathroom inside were all filled with water once the fire was put out.

Flashpoint

The Velazquez’s fire was reported at 9:59 a.m. on Christmas Eve by a neighbor who saw smoke and went over to warn the residents, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said. One of the residents grabbed a garden hose and tried to enter the first floor, where the smoke was coming from. But the fresh air caused the smoky conditions inside to flash over and the room erupted into fire, the chief said.

The first of four fire engines arrived at 10:06 a.m., and they had the fire under control by 10:36 a.m., according to the chief.

Fire Marshal Jon Johnston said the outdoor meat cooker pre-heated the room and its combustible contents, which started to smoke and were at the right temperature when the door was opened and oxygen entered the premises. That led to a flash, which started the fire.
The older 1,500-square-foot Spanish styled structure suffered heat and smoke damage throughout, despite the firefighters’ quick response, Schapelhouman said.

Damage to the house was estimated at $100,000 and $5,000 to its contents.
Outdoor cooking appliances should not be too close to combustibles or buildings, the chief said.

The American Red Cross was contacted to assist the displaced families with temporary housing. Seven adults and four children lost their home in the East Palo Alto fire.
Carlos Membrillo, a neighbor of the Velazquez family, said he didn’t see much of the fire because the fire department put it out quickly.

Neighbor smelled smoke

Another neighbor, Sara Nascimento, said she was working out in her garage on a Peloton bike with her headphones in when she began to smell smoke through the closed door Thursday morning. She didn’t think to check right away, she said, but later opened the garage door because the smoke made her choke.

“I was overwhelmed with the smell of smoke. Then it got to the point where it was burning my throat,” Nascimento said. “My whole yard was full of smoke.”

By the time she moved to call 911, she said someone already had called because she heard fire engine sirens incoming toward the home.

Another neighbor, Jocelyn Perez, said she smelled the smoke from next door to the home.
“It was scary because we didn’t know where the fire was,” Perez said, and added she found out it was the Velazquez family because she saw them running out of the home with their belongings during the fire.

Though his home is destroyed, Velazquez said he wants to return to it with his family soon.
“The truth is I would very much like to go back, fix my house and go back to live there,” Velazquez said.

How to help

Velazquez’s daughter, Sharon, launched a GoFundMe, an online organizing site for raising money, to collect donations to help the family rebuild their home. Go to  https://www.gofundme.com/f/my-parents-home-burned-this-xmas.