Patrick Villa returned to the red-tagged apartment building where he lives on Tuesday, March 1, and wondered whether his father’s World War II photographs and his letterman’s jacket from Redlands High had survived Sunday’s fire that displaced the residents, about 15 in all.
“I don’t have my hopes up for much,” Villa, 56, said as he waited to be escorted inside to his ground-floor apartment. “My daughter’s fine. It’s the best thing you can hope for. Nobody’s hurt.”
The fire was reported in the two-story building at about 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27, in an upstairs apartment at 500 La Verne St., city officials said.
Flames spread through the attic to two other units. It took firefighters from Redlands, San Bernardino County, Loma Linda, Colton and the San Manuel Indian Reservation about two hours to put the fire out. The damage caused by fire, smoke and water to the six-unit complex was estimated at $1 million.
The cause of the fire was under investigation Tuesday, said Carl Baker, a Redlands city spokesman. The American Red Cross was assisting the residents.
Villa, a former San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy, was not home when the fire started. He was riding the rails at the time in his job as an engineer for Union Pacific, hauling freight from Long Beach to Yuma, Arizona. His daughter, who lives with him, called him with the bad news.
A security guard stood outside the building Tuesday to make sure no residents attempted to enter without permission.
One could peer into a second-story apartment and see straight through to the bright-blue sky. A set of drums sat outside; one had a hole in it. In another area, a Bart Simpson doll sat on a table.
Villa was able to spend a few minutes inside on Tuesday, and his hope was partially rewarded. He found the photos of his father, and they had no real damage. But the fate of the jacket is a mystery for now.
Villa has lived in the two-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot apartment since 2015. He’s now looking for new living arrangements. He was paying $1,300 a month in rent, a figure he acknowledged he will be hard-pressed to match.
“That time has passed,” Villa said.
Staff Photographer Terry Pierson contributed to this report.