“I’ve never felt these emotions before” — Fire dims new year for young family, business owners

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Amanda Wilde shares a tender moment with her daughter Hollis Wilde in the NICU of CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital. Photo courtesy of Amanda Wilde

Amanda Wilde settled in for the first night back in her ocean view studio after spending about a month in the hospital with her daughter Hollis who was born prematurely at 28 weeks.

The yoga instructor moved to Laguna Beach last September and was busy preparing the apartment with all the essentials needed to bring her baby home comfortably while also studying online to earn a Master’s degree in neuroscience from Harvard University.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 7, Wilde woke up to a neighbor banging on her door yelling that the building was on fire and she needed to get out. Entirely naked, she only had time to wrap herself in a duvet comforter and grab her phone before bolting out the door. Laguna Beach firefighter Brian Adams later handed her a pair of shoes. A neighbor from across the street brought her a sweatsuit.

With smoke billowing out of her building, Wilde’s mind shifted to concern for firefighters standing on the roof trying to save the building.

“It’s not worth losing sleep over let alone a life,” she said. “I don’t even know how to say ‘thank you.’ That’s not even a big enough word.”

With her studio tainted by smoke damage, Wilde is living at an Airbnb paid for with a debit card provided by the Red Cross. She’s planning to throw out all of her belongings that aren’t made of metal—including her babies’ unworn clothes—because pollutants could irritate her premature lungs.

Wilde is among the individuals whose lives were shattered by a fire that broke out at 1003 S. Coast Hwy. before 1:25 a.m. The Laguna Beach Fire Department said in a statement no firefighters or building tenants were were injured in the blaze. An investigation into the cause was underway this week.

Andrew Glinski and Lucas Harral were looking forward to a Feb. 1 celebration for the third anniversary of opening their automotive tinting and detail business, Relic Protective Films.

Laguna Motor Werks, the family-owned-and-operated mechanic business of Laguna Beach residents Vic Hausner and Yi Jing Hausner, had built up a loyal customer base of Mercedes-Benz and BMW owners to where they hardly needed to advertise after nearly 14 years.

From an office above the automotive businesses, Hans Hagen, executive director of Mauli Ola Foundation, recruited professional surfers to teach surfing to children living cystic fibrosis and make hospital visits to those too sick to go outside.

On Wednesday, Glinski and Harral stepped over a pool of oily water to remove equipment from their service bay following Water runoff from firefighters knocking down the blaze came through the ceiling and overflowed a used oil storage drum. Firefighters used fine gravel to dam pollutants from entering the storm drain.

“We’re just really bummed right now,” Glinksi said. “Our business just stopped in a matter of minutes.”

Glinksi is the proud owner of Levi, a pot-bellied pig rescued by a Laguna Beach police officer after wandering off in 2016. He commutes from his Lake Elsinore home where he cares for a menagerie of rescued pigs, dogs, horses, goats, and donkeys. A large percentage of the income from his car detailing business supports his passion for saving animals.

Andrew Glinski and Lucas Harral, co-owners of Relic Protective Films, stand in their service bay on Wednesday after a fire tore through part of the building at Anita Street and South Coast Highway. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

After the fire, water and power were cut off to the Coast Highway building. Harral has fulfilled appointments by tinting clients’ cars in his home driveway.

“I feel like when something like this happens there’s something good that’s also going to happen,” Harral said.

Relic is a dream come true for Harral, who started building custom car stereos when he was 18 years old. He liked the trade because he could earn a good living without working long hours. He eventually pivoted to tinting cars after a dip in the custom stereo industry.

Andrew Glinski, co-owner of Relic Protective Films, examined a surfboard charred in a Jan. 7 fire at 1009 S. Coast Highway. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Hausner wants to reopen his service shop but it’s uncertain whether his landlord, E.W. Merritt Farms, will be required to tear down or be allowed to repair the Streamline Moderne style building which dates back to 1938. It first served as an Oldsmobile sales and service center, according to the State Historic Resources Inventory.

A spokesperson for Merritt Farms declined to comment Wednesday.

After the blaze that devastate his repair shop, Hausner said he now feels particularly bad for people who lost their homes and business in the Colorado wildfire earlier this month.

“It was a really dark weekend for me. I’ve never felt these emotions before. It’s hard to explain when you put your whole life into starting your own business,” he said.

For now, the Hausners and their long-time mechanic Matthew Del Real are out of work. They can’t access their customer database without electricity.

One of the second-floor porthole windows was still scorched black by the flames on Wednesday. Glinski picked up a surfboard charred black that was left on the second-floor balcony next to a line of burned furniture. A string of Christmas lights was still hanging around the Mauli Ola Foundation’s office door.

The nonprofit lost file cabinets and desks for three employees but fortunately they’ve been working on their computers from home during the pandemic, Hagen said.

“We’ve seen a lot of heartfelt sorries and condolences,” he said. “We’re part of the Laguna Beach and surfing community. This is a really tough thing to see happen.”

Wilde is grateful for the many people who swooped in to help her. She was shocked to meet the firefighters who worked the fire—in uniform on their day off—at the fire station where they presented her with gift cards totaling $1,000 from the Laguna Beach Firefighters’ Association. She used a good portion to buy a car seat and the firefighters have already offered to help her install it in her Jeep.

While she’s primarily focused on seeing her daughter leave the neonatal intensive care unit, she’s also begun her search for a new rental.

“This is a great, great community. I’m never leaving,” she said.

Amanda Wilde with Laguna Beach firefighters who knocked down a fire at her Laguna Beach studio and adjacent businesses. Photo courtesy of Amanda Wilde
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