Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal
Former residents of an apartment complex destroyed in a Sunday fire were able to remove belongings from their units yesterday with the help of Redwood City fire officials.
Former residents of the Hallmark House Apartments, destroyed in a six-alarm fire Sunday, stood in line yesterday for a chance to recover any belongings remaining from the blaze that left nearly 100 homeless and one dead.
Fire victims were provided assistance at the Woodside Road apartment complex yesterday by the county’s Human Services Agency and other nonprofit agencies as they waited to enter the building more than two days after being evacuated. Shoes and socks and other goods were handed out to those in need by HSA staff and the Salvation Army.
Resident Ray Lavin was waiting to enter his apartment after being evacuated. He was also hoping to remove his truck from the garage.
“I’m sure everything stinks like fire,” Lavin said. He was expecting many of his belongings to be intact, however, since the wing of the building he lived in suffered mostly water and smoke damage.
Shari Dewart, who lived on the mostly-destroyed third floor, was eager to see if any of her belongings survived the blaze.
“I’m hopeful,” she said.
Redwood City fire officials are still trying to figure out what sparked the blaze at about 2 a.m. Sunday but have essentially ruled out that it was arson.
About half of the residents at the 72-unit apartment complex receive housing assistance from the county such as Section 8 vouchers or shelter-plus-care vouchers, said San Mateo County Department of Housing official Bill Lowell.
Lowell told the Daily Journal that the Hallmark House Apartments owners are also quickly returning deposits and refunding rent for July to the victims, many who are living at an emergency shelter set up by the Red Cross near Red Morton Park.
“They are going to need that cash as housing is difficult to find in the area,” Lowell said.
Housing officials are also making sure victims have all the proper paperwork needed to secure housing, he said.
The Human Services Agency has provided social workers on site to provide for the 14 residents of the complex who are already active on the county’s roster for public assistance programs, said HSA spokesman Edwin Chan.
Many need mental health assistance, Chan said.
Some HSA staff have taken turns spending the night at the emergency shelter set up at the National Guard Armory on Velota Road, he said.
Fire victims were able to access their apartments for only about 10 minutes yesterday. Some returned with bags full of belongings while others found that most of their personal effects had been destroyed in the six-alarm blaze that was still smoldering in hot spots more than a day after the fire started.
The fire claimed one life but there has yet to be an identification. A forensic dentist examined the victim’s body last night and the identification should be available today, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault wrote the Daily Journal in an email.
The building did not have sprinklers but an internal fire hose that firefighters did not use.
The San Mateo County Health System has been working closely with the Red Cross, county Office of Emergency Services, HSA and other partners to respond to the victims of the fire and help them get back on their feet, Robyn Thaw, spokeswoman for the Health System wrote the Daily Journal in an email.
“Initially, our focus was helping the people who were displaced to identify their lost medications and working with pharmacies and providers to refill prescriptions as quickly as possible,” Thaw wrote.
The Health System also sent staff to provide emotional support for those residents who were anxious and concerned in the hours following the event, Thaw wrote in the email.
Yesterday, residents were handed face masks and gloves and given 10 minutes each to enter their former apartments with a fire official providing escort.
In total, 17 were injured in the fire that caused 97 people to lose their homes.
About 25 residents were briefly hospitalized and another 61 were housed at the evacuation center at the Fair Oaks Community Center by the Red Cross.
About 30 people stayed the night at the National Guard Armory on cots Monday night. The shelter may remain open until this weekend.
Members of the public seeking to donate goods or funds should call (650) 366-2742 to make arrangements.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106