Friends, strangers help family displaced by fire

When Sally Nobbs and her family jumped out of the windows of their Sunset Beach home to escape a five-alarm fire May 12, there was no going back: They lost everything.

But almost immediately, Nobbs, who lived in the rented home with her boyfriend, his two sons and a roommate, was overwhelmed with the generosity of neighbors and friends.

"When we were sitting on the beach and watching our house burn down, people were running up to us and giving us things we needed, like clothes and shoes," Nobbs said.

Friends and strangers packed Nadine's Irish Mist on Monday night for a benefit to support the family affected by the blaze, which burned one house to the ground, completely damaged another and caused minor damage to the two on either side.

It started when burning coals fell through the bottom of a barbecue and landed on a wood deck, according to Kris Concepcion, a spokesman for the Orange County Fire Authority.

Smoke could be seen for miles away as the fire ate away at the homes overlooking the beach. Two people suffered from smoke inhalation and two firefighters sustained minor injuries. One firefighter fell on the roof of the home and the other cut his hand, Capt. Greg McKeown said.

Cathy Curtis, 42, was among the many people who stood on the beach near the homes watching as firefighters fought the blaze. She said she first heard of the fire when her friend called after seeing the house on TV. Curtis, who lives nearby, worried about her two dogs, but was relieved when she learned they were safe.

Jim Lim, a photographer working nearby, said he was one of the first people to see the homes catch on fire.

"It was just sad seeing the beach house fall," he said. "People were just watching. They couldn't help it. They couldn't do anything."

About 100 firefighters from the Orange County Fire Authority, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Fountain Valley responded to the fire, McKeown said.

The benefit at Nadine's featured a live auction with items ranging from a trip to Mexico to a signed photograph of the San Diego Chargers. Live bands played while Nadine's chefs served food in a free buffet.

Nobbs thanked the crowd, and friends and strangers came up to give her hugs and words of encouragement.

"There are a lot of friends here and just as many people we don't even know that have rallied together in a time of crisis," Nobbs said.

Bar owner Niall Coyle and members of Sunset Beach women's club Las Damas coordinated the fundraiser.

"It didn't surprise me in the slightest to see you all out here, because that's what Sunset Beach is all about," Coyle told the crowd.

Las Damas President Kathy Hammond said the club was at Nadine's on May 12 for a regular trivia event when they saw fire engines and news trucks crowd Pacific Coast Highway.

The family came to Nadine's that night, "and they literally had nothing but the clothes they had on," Coyle said.

As soon as Coyle and Hammond knew what happened, they started working the phones to organize the benefit. By Monday, dozens of prizes had been donated for the auction.

Family friend and Long Beach chef Cappy bought a framed, signed photo from the cast of "Mash" for a $100 donation during the live auction. Although he and the other auction buyers were excited about the prizes, it was more about lending a helping hand.

"I could at least contribute to the cause," Cappy said. "I know they'd do the same for me."

Hammond and Coyle planned to add up the donations, estimated in the thousands, and present the money to the family Wednesday evening.