Two people who lost their homes and belongings in the Sycamore Village Apartments fire two weeks ago are struggling to replace basic goods.
“I came out without shoes. Not even one pair,” said Beatrice Sanchez, who lived directly across from the apartment that exploded. “The only thing that made it was a 3-foot statue of the Virgin Maria.”
Six apartments were destroyed by the Feb. 14 fire, which forced a total of 30 residents to vacate 16 damaged apartments.
The fire began when Daniel Delashmutt, 48, accidentally ignited his gas-filled apartment following a botched suicide attempt.
Most of the displaced residents were relocated to vacant apartments in the Sycamore Village complex, but some, like Sanchez, don’t have the money to furnish them.
Sanchez says she is in need of “anything that goes in a house” including clothes, shoes, a dining table and dishware.
Her roommate, Tina Baker, lost her Chihuahua puppy in the fire as well as thousands of dollars in medicines she takes for cancer. Baker, who is unemployed, does not know how she will pay for an upcoming surgery.
“She gets migrane headaches and doubles up with abdominal pain,” Sanchez said of her roommate.
Between the two women, the fire claimed $60,000 worth of furniture and jewelry and a collection of Betty Boop antiques valued at $5,000, Sanchez said.
A friend of the roommates, Shauna Gutierrez, hopes to rally community support for the fire victims.
“Tina is in a major depression and doesn’t even want to get up,” she said. “These people have nothing left, it’s just very frustrating to watch. We’d like to start some kind of fundraiser.”
The local chapter of the American Red Cross provided Baker and Sanchez with vouchers amounting to about $900, but says it can offer no more handouts.
“We’re budgeted $41,000 for the year just for direct service, and we’ve already spent that,” said Lee Veselak, director of emergency services for the San Joaquin County chapter.
Veselak said that a national company is donating new mattresses to the Red Cross for the victims, but because there are “so many” it might take another week for the beds to arrive.
Baker is sleeping on an air mattress, and Sanchez is staying with her daughter.
“I am grateful to have the apartment, but the only thing they (Sycamore Village) are responsible for is housing you, getting you a place,” Sanchez said. “But there’s no help, like giving you a month free (of rent).”
Residents of only two of the 16 vacated apartments had insurance, according to Sanchez, who said she hadn’t even heard of renters’ insurance prior to the fire.
The Red Cross says most people who rent homes don’t have insurance.
“We handle about 100 fires a year, and I’d say about five percent have renter’s insurance,” said Veselak, who is planning a debriefing session for the victims to talk about the fire and to meet one another.
“Just one careless person can cause you to lose your belongings. So you should get renters’ insurance,” she said.
A Farmers Insurance representative in Tracy said local renters’ insurance typically costs $8 a month but covers $17,000 in personal property.
Sycamore Apartments will not release the names or contact information of the fire victims.