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Moorpark Mom Who Lost Home in Blaze Discovers a Wealth of Support

November 08, 2003|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

The donations have come from all over, and they alone would have been enough to cheer and inspire fire victim Diane McDonald.

Ten dollars from a co-worker at Santa Paula Memorial Hospital. Nearly $5,000 from the regulars at Harley's Bowl in Simi Valley, where McDonald participates in league play. All of the money has poured in to help the single mother of two get back on her feet after the Simi fire destroyed her uninsured mobile home in Moorpark.

But then came word this week that an anonymous donor -- the CEO of a Ventura County company -- had pledged to match up to $10,000 of the contributions McDonald receives.

Donations thus far are nearing $10,000. Add to that the matching contribution and a $20,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and McDonald in less than a week has collected about $40,000 of the $70,000 she will need to clear the ruins of her home and replace it with a new, three-bedroom unit -- which is being provided at cost.

The outpouring has been enough to bring her to tears.

"It has been extremely humbling to me," said McDonald, who lost just about everything she owned in the Oct. 25 blaze that destroyed two homes and damaged four others at the Villa del Arroyo Mobile Home Estates.

"People work so hard for the money they make, and they are just handing it to me without even knowing me," she said. "It's overwhelming. I don't even know the words for it."

Like other places around Southern California, the mobile home park in northeast Moorpark has been inundated with donations to aid victims of wildfires that consumed about 172,000 acres near Simi Valley and Fillmore and caused more than $20 million in damage. Those blazes destroyed 38 residences and damaged at least a dozen others.

Few were in a tougher spot than McDonald.

Pushed hard by Santa Ana winds, the Simi fire jumped California 118 and raced into the mobile home park on a Saturday evening, sending residents scrambling to safety. McDonald was napping before her nursing shift at Santa Paula Memorial Hospital when she awoke shortly before 6 p.m. to find flames licking at her bedroom window.

She grabbed her purse and raced out the door just as the window exploded and the fire swept in, gutting the home.

McDonald had moved into the mobile home only three weeks earlier, putting up $90,000 of her own money to buy the unit and charging another $5,000 to a credit card. But she had not gotten around to insuring the home, meaning it and its contents were a total loss.

That was when her neighbors swung into action. Members of the Villa del Arroyo Homeowner's Assn. created a recovery fund at a local bank and started spreading the word about McDonald's plight in local newspapers and television news broadcasts.

The phone at the park's clubhouse has been ringing off the hook ever since, said Joe Agnello, who manages the place with his wife, Barbara.

"We thought we would be able to give her something, but we thought it would be a small gesture," Agnello said. "It has snowballed, and I'm very happy about that."

It hasn't been just about money. Donors have given the family a side-by-side refrigerator, furniture, dishes, utensils, toys and clothing. And while she is still $30,000 short of what she needs, McDonald said she never thought she would be this far down the road to recovery so soon.

"I was just hoping I would get enough to remove the home from the property, then I would start looking for a place, probably out of the area," she said. "This has been unbelievable. It just seems every time one door closes, another one opens."

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Anyone interested in contributing to the Diane McDonald fund is asked to call the mobile home park at 523-7444.

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