Fire 'survivors' pick up the pieces

A self-described ’60s radical leaned over donated T-shirts, pants and shorts, folding and placing them in boxes for victims of the Station fire, which blackened 250 square miles, destroyed more than 80 homes and galvanized a community, he said.

Eddie Gold was joined this weekend by dozens of friends seeking to help him and a handful of neighbors who lost their homes in one of the Southland’s largest wildfires ever. Together they collected clothes, gift cards and donations.

The 64-year-old has turned to the many lessons he’s learned throughout his life in the days since the Station fire consumed his Vogel Flats cabin, along with thousands of comic books, coins and stamps, his father’s wristwatch and the 19th-century rifle passed down through the family for generations.

His mind wanders to the Arabic proverb: Trust in Allah, but tether your camel.

“You can’t help it from changing your perspective. I tend to forget the camel,” said Gold, who operated a camera on the sets of “Raging Bull” and “The Wanderers” before emerging from retirement to work at Trader Joe’s. “Life is going to happen. It’s how we deal with it that determines the quality of our lives.”

Vogel Flats, by its very nature, is isolated. So much so that Gold didn’t know many of his neighbors. And he didn’t mind it that way, either.

But the flames’ devastation changed that. The many friends and fellow “survivors” of the fire — “they refuse to call themselves victims,” said Dr. Jane Hays — have coalesced around a common cause.

“As much as I hate to say it, this catastrophe has brought us together, has brought people together,” said Nathaniel Malcolm, a friend of Gold’s. “We’re back to, and I hope the moment is not too brief, really caring about each other.”

More than 30 homes and other structures were charred in the remote settlements of Vogel Flats and Stonyvale after residents were given only a few minutes to evacuate. Gold rescued his two cats, grabbed two changes of clothes and his laptop.

When George Robinette returned to view the area, the 58-year-old was taken aback by the wreckage.

“It looked like a scene out of a Tim Burton movie,” said Robinette, a maintenance worker in the metal department for the Los Angeles Unified School District. “The trees were thin, curled and black.”

He made out a stoop, fireplace and old stove, but nothing else.

Among the fundraising group’s efforts — led by Hays, Wendy Alane Smith, Gigi Schleuter and others — is securing permanent housing for the displaced. Gold has spent weeks couch surfing and sleeping on garage floors to keep his cats indoors.

He spent the day Sunday laying out the mountains of clothes that Smith estimates are worth between $5,000 and $8,000. They also collected $3,017 in cash and about $20,000 worth of furniture and appliances. Gold was given $1,000 for rent and a security deposit along with gift cards, and Robinette received cash for clothing as well as gift cards.

Belongings aside, the toughest part for Robinette and others is that they don’t know if they can afford to return to the peaceful region, he said.

Rent for the three-bedroom house was about $500 a month, which he split with a roommate. Along with bills, he spent just $400 a month.

“You couldn’t leave anything out because of the critters,” Robinette said. “But there is no more perfect place.”


 CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO covers Burbank City Hall and the courts. He may be reached at (818) 637-3242 or by e-mail at christopher.cadelago@ latimes.com.

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