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Family Savors Holiday More After Blaze

Times Staff Writer

Jami and Rick Way lost all their possessions when a swift-moving fire caused by a shorted Christmas tree bulb gutted their Thousand Oaks home the day before Christmas.

But Jami Way said that Friday was the best Christmas her family ever had.

Friends, strangers and Ventura County firefighters have responded with a heart-warming shower of gifts and money for the family. But, more importantly, the Ways are thankful that Jami and the couple’s sons, Brocker, 4, and Chapman, 1, escaped with their lives.

“I can’t stop thinking that my kids are alive,” said Jami Way, 30, an aerobics instructor. “I am so thankful, so thankful.

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“We lost everything in this fire, we lost all of our Christmas presents, but I’ll tell you I don’t feel that we lost anything. I am the happiest woman in the world, and I have been rejoicing,” she said as she sat in her pajamas, surrounded by donated clothing, food and toys for the boys, at her parents’ Thousand Oaks home Friday morning.

Added Rick Way, 31: “It made us feel so good that everyone cared so much for us.”

The family is far more fortunate than most would be in the same situation.

For one thing, the house was fully insured and the Ways plan to rebuild. In addition, actress Goldie Hawn, a friend of Jami’s brother, actor Kurt Russell, has invited the family to live at her Malibu beach house until their house is rebuilt.

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Jami Way said her family, which has an average income, needs the donated money for immediate living expenses. But the Ways are keeping track of where it comes from so they can pay people back or give a similar amount to charity later, she said.

‘Tree Literally Exploded’

The fire started about 8:25 a.m. Thursday when Jami Way settled down to wrap some presents and plugged in the Christmas tree lights. Her husband, a screenwriter, was at his brother’s house.

“We were listening to some Christmas music. I put the lights on and heard a pop on the tree, and the tree literally exploded into flames. The living room was engulfed in flames within five seconds,” she said.

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Jami Way grabbed Brocker and took him outside, then ran back in and grabbed Chapman from his crib. Flames were running up the walls and shooting across the ceiling as she ran through the living room and out the front door, she said.

“As we were hitting the street, the windows exploded out,” she said. “Then we just stood there and watched the house burn down.”

Ventura County firefighters contained the fire by 8:43 a.m. and had it completely out about 10 a.m., authorities said. Fire officials said the blaze was sparked by the shorted bulb on the Christmas tree. They estimated the damage at $80,000 to the house and contents.

Firefighters returned Thursday with armloads of Christmas presents. Merchants at the Janss Mall in Thousand Oaks sent candy, clothing, stuffed animals and other items.

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Besides the presents, the Ways have received more than $1,000 in cash, including $500 from a neighbor and $250 from staff and students at La Reina High School in Thousand Oaks.

“I don’t know how we’re ever going to match this Christmas,” Jami Way said.


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