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Marigold fire victims rebuild, struggle

21 marigold victims 1

Jennifer Pamatz, top left, stands with her father Gustavo Cortez, top right, and her daughter Vanessa Pamatz, 6, at their rental house in Fairfield, Friday. Pamatz's home was damaged in the Marigold fire and is currently under construction. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)

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From page A1 | December 21, 2013 | Leave Comment

FAIRFIELD — Verna Gray choked back tears as she talked about losing her home to the Aug. 27 Marigold Drive fire.

Then, she made a surprising admission.

“The fire has kind of taken the back burner to everything else,” she said.

That’s hard to believe after the massive fire, which destroyed five homes and damaged 10 others. But in early November, a Gray family member died from leukemia. His daughter was going to live with Verna and her husband of 47 years, Gene Gray. Since they had no home, the teen moved in with the Grays’ daughter.

A few days before the family member’s death, Gene Gray was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. It has since spread to his spine and hip.

That news made the couple even more anxious to get back to the lot where their home sat. They are still waiting for permits to rebuild. She had hoped to see construction underway before Christmas.

A rental house became their abode about two weeks after the fire. But it’s not home, Gray said.

It’s become difficult for Gene Gray to access the shower. Their Marigold Drive home had a walk-in shower. At the rental home, he has to step into the bathtub to use the shower.

“With his condition, that’s a job,” Gray said. “It’s getting to the point it’s not possible.”

On Mother’s Day in 1974, the Grays and their children traveled up from the interior Bay Area with another couple who were looking to buy a house.

“We had a picnic lunch, looked at the models, went to the parks, found this house and put down a downpayment,” Verna Gray said.

When it came time to move, Verna Gray needed someone to draw a map to Marigold Drive.

“It was the greatest move we made,” she said. The youngest Gray child was 2 at the time, the oldest was 6.

Today, their adult children are their lifelines, Verna Gray said. The couple also gets a lot of support from their church, she said.

“This isn’t a happy Christmas story,” she said, still choking back tears. “But you can’t run from it.”

Jennifer Pamatz is beginning to see the light at the end of tunnel after the house she shared with father and daughter was damaged in the Marigold Drive blaze.

“Things are getting back to normal now,” she said. The three live in a rental house in the Marigold Drive area. Work has started on their Marigold Drive home.

For Pamatz, the hardest time is when her 6-year-old daughter will see a toy and say, “I had that at the burned house.”

The family spent a month living in a motel before getting the rental abode. “This doesn’t feel like home,” she said. “Eating out every day was not fun. We didn’t have a kitchen.”

The sparse furnishings are also rented. Pamatz isn’t crazy about the bed, but can get one to her liking when they get resettled. She had just remodeled her bedroom before the fire.

“We are starting all over again,” she said. “There’s a lot of shopping to do. I’m not complaining about that.”

Smiles are showing up again as a new baby was welcomed into the family at the end of November.

“There are more important things than a house,” Pamatz said. “And, there’s always someone worse off than you.”

Pamatz said she’s grateful no lives were lost.

The Grays and Pamatz were both helped by the Solano Community Support Coalition, a group of local nonprofits, churches, businesses, and health and social services providers. More than $20,000 was collected. Earlier this month, the last of the money was distributed to them, said Marilyn Ojeda, with the Solano Community Support Coalition.

“My heart pains for them,” she said of those displaced homeowners and renters. “I can still hear the pain in their voices.”

Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or amaginnis@dailyrepublic.net. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.

Marigold fire

  • 5 houses destroyed
  • 10 houses damaged
  • Damage estimate: More than $1 million
  • Cause: Undertermined. It started on eastbound Interstate 80 and jumped over a sound wall.

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey joined the staff of the Daily Republic in 1980. She’ll tell you she was only 3 at the time. Over the past three decades she’s done a variety of jobs in the newsroom. Today, she covers arts and entertainment and writes for the Living and news pages.
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