‘Outpouring of Love’ for Families Hit by Fire

A view of the fire damage inside 708 Charter Oak St. Photo by Skye Hannah

The Durrett and Ebner families are working to regain stability and a sense of normalcy after a fire destroyed both their homes on Charter Oak Street last Wednesday — but an “outpouring of love” from the community is helping, one of the victims told the Review.

Although there were no reported injuries to occupants or firefighters as a result of the fire at 708 Charter Oak St. and 700 Charter Oak St. on Aug. 21, according to officials, two of the Durretts’ cats were still missing as of Tuesday.

Friends of the Durretts and Ebners have raised around $70,000 for the two families through GoFundMe online fundraising campaigns.

Homeowners Denise Durrett and Brendan Durrett of 708 Charter Oak said they were thankful for the community’s strong support in fundraisers and offering clothes and other resources. The family is currently staying in a hotel. According to Brendan, their home also served as a daycare facility. The facility’s license was current under the state of California, a Review check found.

“It’s really hard, and we’re still in shock and struggling, but the outpouring of love from the community has been so amazing,” Denise told the Review.

The fire broke out around 3 p.m. at the Durretts’ home and soon arced to the Ebners’ 700 Charter Oak home. Denise said she was in the dining room with her 11-year-old daughter Elsa and six young children when she heard a noise and went to check. Fire was engulfing a room and she ran to grab a fire extinguisher.

Although the official investigation report will not be released until at least Sept. 6, malicious intent has been ruled out and the assumption is accidental, according to South Pasadena Fire Department Firefighter John Papadakis.

Denise said there were initial suspicions that the cause was electrical in nature. Despite her efforts with the extinguisher, she said it had no effect on the flames.

“I emptied an entire fire extinguisher on it and it didn’t do anything because it’s an electric fire, so if the electricity is still going it’s not going to stop anything,” said Denise.

Young Elsa immediately grabbed a phone to dial 911 and then rushed to help evacuate the house. The fire was first reported to dispatch at 3:08 p.m., according to South Pasadena Fire Chief Paul Riddle.

“She stepped up and called 911 and she helped get kids out of the house and she was there through the whole thing,” said Denise. “She’s a rock star.”

Papadakis saluted the “prompt and smart actions” of Elsa on calling 911 when she did.

“She got us rolling early or else it could have been worse,” said Papadakis.

Once all the children were out, Denise also managed to save their two small dogs — Twinkie, a Corgi, and Peanut, a terrier mix.

Brendan said he was at work when he received a call from his wife. He said he heard her yell something but couldn’t make out what she was saying.

“I listened and I heard screaming, which is normal — it’s a daycare, I normally hear that,” said Brendan. “But these were a different kind of screams.”

He hit the road for home and the first thing he saw on the freeway was a news helicopter above his neighborhood.

“That’s when I knew,” said Brendan.

When he finally reached the house, he said “everyone was across the street in a state of complete hysteria and pandemonium.”

Brendan’s mother Norma Jean Durrett lives a few houses down and watched the fire unfurl.

“It was a hot fire, large flames, big cloud of smoke — just poof,” said Norma.

Brendan said the “key number” was 10 minutes, according to their neighbor Izzy Ebner who was home at the time. She told him the time between when she got out and the fire department had the fire contained was 10 minutes – and that’s all it took. 

“She heard popping and screaming,” said Brendan. “She came out right as it was starting and she grabbed her garden hose, which of course did nothing, but she tried. Maybe she slowed it down on her house. It got too hot so she grabbed her dog and got the heck out of Dodge.”

Six departments responded to the two-alarm fire with 45 firefighters, involved on the scene.

  During a tour of the fire damage on Friday, a melted motorcycle trailer of the Durretts’ that was between the two houses looked as if parts of it had been made of crumpled aluminum foil.

“There’s some debate on the melting point of aluminum, but the number I’m hearing mostly is 2,200 degrees,” said Brendan. “That’s outside the house.”

Of the Durretts’ five cats, three were injured and two are still missing. Freya escaped with only minor singed fur. Abby and Button, who survived with burns and carbon monoxide poisoning, were treated in the intensive care unit inside oxygen tents at TLC Pet Medical Center and released on Monday. Lily, a light calico, and Zelda, a tortoiseshell calico, were missing. Denise said firefighters said they maybe saw Lily escape the house during the fire.

“Everything else can be replaced, but we just really want them back,” said Denise.

On Friday night, Denise said, their home was looted. “It was all boarded up and my husband went to check on things,” said Denise. “Someone had ripped one of the big boards off and gone inside and rooted around and took some jewelry that was in there. That was hard. But it is what it is. It’s just stuff and the people are fine.”

The Durretts praised the city, their insurance agent State Farm Insurance and their neighbors for their support.

“Everybody’s been awesome,” said Denise. “I was expecting all sorts of hassles and everyone has been really great, especially the firemen.”

Brendan said his family had been in the 1910-constructed house for around 10 years. They’re looking forward to rebuilding.

“I can see the grass plaque now,” said Brendan. “Built 1910. Rebuilt 2020.”

Check out Friends in Need, Friends Indeed for more on the outpouring of love for the families hit by fire.