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Second ‘cliff-hanger’ fire claims a home

Another “cliff-hanger” fire destroyed a multimillion-dollar Laguna Beach home in the early morning hours Saturday.

This one was the home of Rosalind Russell, known in Laguna as “The Goat Lady” because of her work providing subsistence farm animals to women in Nepal.

Russell, her housemate and three cats escaped unharmed, but the multilevel ocean view home in the 2000 block of Park Avenue is a total loss after a fire that started in a laundry room apparently burned for hours, according to police and fire officials.

It is the second fire in a multilevel cliffside home in two weeks in Laguna Beach. The first one occurred Dec. 18 in Mystic Hills.

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Laguna Beach Fire Chief Mike Macey said the fires are not related, and in both instances appear to be the result of combustible materials stored near a furnace.

In such homes, fires can burn undetected for some time in lower quarters and by the time they are noticed they have built up a lot of heat, Macey said.

In the Park Avenue fire, firefighters had to turn back from entering the home because the conflagration was so intense, Macey said.

“There was a lot of fire when the units arrived,” he said. “They were driven back by heat.”

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The fire was called in at 4:09 a.m. and was reported knocked down at 6:14 a.m., according to police records.

The loss is estimated at $1.5 to $2 million, Macey said.

Russell, who has lived in the home for 29 years, fled the flames wearing only pajamas.

On Monday morning, Russell was wearing clothing and shoes given to her by the Red Cross as she surveyed the damage to her red-tagged home.

“Now it’s my turn,” she said of her plight. “The firefighters asked what I wanted from the home, and all I said was ‘get my bras.’ Now I have 20 smoky bras.”

Russell said she had tried to fight the fire herself with a fire extinguisher before calling 911.

Russell, who is a minister, said about all she had been able to retrieve was her Bible and a few books.

She said that many of her friends have called to offer assistance, and she is looking for a place to rent in Laguna Beach — preferably with an ocean view.

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“There’s a lot of goodness and kindness out there,” Russell said.

Friends of Russell’s are raising funds to help her relocate and replace her lost belongings.

A bank account has been opened at Wells Fargo Bank in Laguna Beach under the name “The Goat Lady,” according to friend Trudy Josephson, with whom Russell is staying for the time being.

Russell may be e-mailed at starkitty@gmail.com



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