Laguna residents rally to aid longtime neighbors after new home burns in Camp Fire
By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
A former Laguna Beach couple who lived on Starlit Drive in Bluebird Canyon for more than 50 years is recuperating from the loss of their new home in Paradise after it burned in the Camp Fire three weeks after they moved in.
Dick and Carol Stein recently left their family home in Laguna Beach with their daughter Linda to be closer to their great-grandchildren who live in Chico. Both in their mid-80s, the Steins had just finished unpacking belongings at their new home when they received two calls from local authorities to evacuate—then came the knock at the door from a police officer telling them to get out.
As they got into their cars with just the clothes they were wearing, the Steins could see a 40-foot wall of flames approaching their neighbor’s house across the street.
“They were having a difficult time breathing during their escape and could barely see the lights in the vehicle ahead of them,” said Susan Stein, Dick and Carol’s daughter who lives in Laguna Niguel.
After evacuating, they stayed with their grandson before driving to Reno, where one of their three daughters lives. Susan Stein said her parents are grieving the loss of their two cats that likely died in the fire, as well as a lifetime of family memorabilia.
“Until I got home, I couldn’t really grieve it because I had to do everything that needed to be done for them,” Susan Stein said. “We’re just grateful that they made it out of there.”
The Steins have spent the last week filling out forms for their insurance companies and contacting utility companies to terminate accounts they no longer need.
Back in Laguna Beach, the Steins are on the minds of their longtime neighbors and friends Suzie and Jerry Johnson, who lived across the street from them for 54 years. The Johnsons have been friends with Dick and Carol Stein since the four of them attended Laguna Beach High School.
“I would say 90 percent of their life is in Laguna Beach,” Suzie Johnson said.
After having raised their children together, Johnson said their friendship has grown into something very special, making the loss of the Steins’ home and treasured belongings particularly painful to hear about.
“I’m happy for them that they got out scared as heck but safe,” she said.
The Steins spent quite a while looking for the right place to relocate to near Paradise, especially after leaving their home of more than 50 years.
“It was just so quiet and serene, and everyone was so welcoming and the house was perfectly suited for them and their age,” Susan Johnson said.
Mark Christy fondly remembers growing up on Starlit Drive with Dick and Carol’s daughters and having baseball and football games, as well as bicycle races, on their street. Most of these games were effectively held in the Steins’ front yard because they were in the center of the cul-de-sac.
“The Steins were a bipartisan cheering section and often a de-facto rest stop, as their garden hose was used often to replenish or hose off innumerable asphalt injuries,” Christy said.
Dick Carol always offered to fix Christy’s Sting Ray bicycle with a wrench, tire patch, or link of bicycle chain when one his reenactments of Evel Knievel didn’t go well. He describes both Dick and Carol as perpetually friendly, humble, and always willing to help when one of their neighbors need it.
“Now that the decades have passed and they could use a bit of a hand, it’s nice to be able to return a small fraction of the countless favors they did for every kid and resident of Starlit for all these years,” Christy said.
Janet Mitchell, the daughter of Jerry and Suzie Johnson, started a GoFundMe campaign to help get the Steins the items they need to get back on their feet. As of the Indy’s deadline, the campaign had raised more than $5,500 of the $15,000 goal. Susan Stein said the entire family is extremely grateful for all of the support from Laguna Beach residents as her parents try to rebuild what they lost in the fire.
“The donations are obviously wonderful and helpful, but it’s really nice to read the comments,” she said. “We get pictures of people supporting us. It helps us get through each day.”
To donate to the Steins, visit www.gofundme.com/stein-fire-relief-fund