The Santa Barbara House Fire

My husband Mike is a tortillero, which means he has been in the tortilla business his entire life. For years we were owners of a mid-size tortilla factory. We had over 150 employees, and I was in charge of Human Resources. This was a part-time job; I was working short hours to see to our family’s needs. Since HR required wearing different hats, I was also in charge of all Workers’ Compensation. Several times a year I had to attend mandatory conferences to stay informed with the ever-changing laws.

Anaheim Convention Center Conference

The conference was an all-day meeting with executives from different insurance branches speaking about safety and how to prevent injuries. I remember signing up for the lectures on the lawsuits  because we had suffered from two frivolous, related claims that year.

Sonja’s winter formal

Our daughter was a junior in high school, living the life of a carefree teenager. During the conference lunch break I called Sonja. There were no cell phones at the time so I waited my turn to use a public telephone.

Just An Ordinary Day for Sonja

Sonja answered the phone, but the conversation took so many turns that I had forgotten why I called. “Are you and dad going to give me a summer job? If you are, I can only work part-time. I need a couple of days off during the week so that I can go to the beach.” This was just part of her roller coaster ride of a conversation. Sonja went on to talk about her winter formal dress. “When can we go shopping? I need shoes for the dress, I want them to match perfectly. If we can’t find the right color, I guess we can buy some white satin ones and have them dyed.” By this time I was out of breath. It was the last part of Sonja’s conversation that I could not believe, “By the way, your son called, he said that the house in Santa Barbara burnt down.” Now I was speechless! “Wait! Wait! Can you repeat that? What are you talking about?” I yelled. Again Sonja repeated that the house in Santa Barbara had burnt down. I could not breathe! I called Mike and he could not breathe. Was Mikos alright? He and his friend were living in our house at that time. Mikos had already contacted Mike, who was on his way to a meeting with Alpha Beta (a large grocery chain). After the meeting Mike immediately called Mikos, “Are you okay, did anyone get hurt?” Mikos was pretty shaken up and answered that both he and his roommate Rick were fine.

Chicago, Mikos and Rick, in Rick’s room

Mikos’ Story

Mikos was a junior at Westmont College. Instead of staying for chapel, he would go home in between classes to cook breakfast. Rick, his roommate, had just broken up with his girlfriend and was feeling melancholy; so he lit a candle in his room, then jumped into the shower. While Mikos was frying some bacon, he noticed dust coming from the backyard. Rick’s room was the converted garage. His first thought was that Rick was dusting out his floor rug. Then he remembered that Rick was in the shower. Mikos went out the kitchen door to investigate, and, as he approached the door of Rick’s room, he realized that it was on fire. He ran back inside to inform Rick that his room was on fire. Another friend, James, was visiting. Mikos yelled out for James to call 911. Then Mikos ran back outside to assess the fire.  James could not find the cordless phone and did what he thought was best for himself. He grabbed his backpack and skateboard, jumped out of one of the bedroom windows and rode off into the sunset. In the meantime Mikos was frantically looking for the phone. He found it buried in the couch, called 911, and ran back outside with a garden hose to try to put out the flames. If you live in Santa Barbara you would understand that the water pressure in this city is the worst. Seeing that the fire was out of his control, he ran back inside the house to try to salvage whatever he could. The firemen arrived and quickly put out the flames. The fire chief questioned both Mikos and Rick, asking if they had had an argument of some sort, or if one of them started dating the other’s girlfriend. They were both so scared straight they could not lie. Well, not until one of the firemen came out with a sock in his hand. The young fireman called  Mikos aside and pulled a stash of pot out of the sock. “Is this yours?” he asked. “I’ve never seen that, no, it’s not mine,” Mikos nervously replied. The fireman then said to Mikos, “Well then, we won’t report this to the police.” The sly fireman put the pot carefully back into the sock and hid it in his jacket. He scored a free hit of pot from two vulnerable, traumatized college kids.

Fire and Rain

Sonja was partly right; half of the house was damaged. Mike arrived the following morning to meet with the insurance adjuster. We were frustrated with the adjuster’s report. The insurance agreed to only pay for the part of the roof that was damaged. They would replace the windows only on half of the house. Since the kitchen and bathroom were functioning, they considered the home livable. Then came one of the greatest rainstorms in the history of Santa Barbara. No plastic tarp could keep the torrential rain from causing more damage to the already impaired cottage. Mikos said that every night during the storm he had to get up on the roof to staple the tarp over a huge hole caused by the fire.  He was worried that the roof would cave in because the ceiling of his room had swollen with water. He’d call us to complain, but there was nothing we could do. Mikos was finally growing up and, literally, worrying about the roof over his head.

We had to call the insurance adjuster again because the fire happened just a few days before the rainstorm. Now we had to deal with two different claims. It was an uphill battle but we finally got everything squared away. It took a total of six months to get our home in Santa Barbara in order.

Mikos and Rick quickly became friends with the construction workers. This was a new type of fraternity that had special fringe benefits: new drinking buddies. Mikos claimed that after the construction was complete, they had the best party in the history of Westmont College, and James was in attendance.

Our Santa Barbara home

This is why I could only work part-time: our kids were still driving us crazy. On the up side, I can honestly report that our daughter Sonja was always on the honor role and is one of the most responsible adults that I know. Perhaps we spoiled her but in the end she has learned to live a wonderful, productive life with her two sons and husband Russ. Looking back at Mikos’ life, I would say that I had to pray for him a little more than for Sonja. I’m happy to report that all his life experiences have caused him to become a conscientious young man. He is a great husband to Jenny and father of two.

Don’t Worry…Learn to Pray

We had the means to rescue Mikos and set him up at a hotel while our home was under construction but we chose not to.  When Sonja started working while she was in college, we stopped most of her personal financial aid. We made these decisions because we felt that our kids needed to fend for themselves. This was also my genesis in the world of effectual prayer and trusting God. I dove in and never came out.

Santa Barbara Cottage

We still own our little home in Santa Barbara, located a block and a half from Ledbetter Beach. It has served as an investment for us. We always talk about taking it over and making it a vacation home, but we’re all too busy for that commitment. In the meantime, a wonderful family of four has been occupying our home responsibly for over ten years. I thank God for that!

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