Report: Electrical mishap likely sparked fire that dislodged businesses, young family

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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

An electrical malfunction was identified by investigators as the most probable cause of a January blaze that displaced two businesses and two residents from a historic Laguna Beach building.

Investigators zeroed in on an outlet powering a space heater through an electrical extension cord inside a second-floor office leased by the Mauli Ola Foundation at 1003 S. Coast Hwy. Tristram Miller, 51, of Laguna Beach told investigators he was sleeping in the Foundation’s office and woke up around 1:30 a.m. to smoke and found a plastic Christmas tree and couch burning in an adjacent room, according to the fire investigation report.

“With a systematic examination of the fire scene, analysis of burn patterns, physical evidence, and witness statements it is my opinion that the fire started around the electrical outlet,” Laguna Beach fire investigator Ian Da Costa wrote.

More testing of the building’s electrical and wiring system would be needed to confirm a definitive cause, Da Costa added. The Independent obtained a copy of the report through a California Public Records Act request.

The total estimated damage from the Jan. 7 fire was pegged between $500,000 and $650,000. The 1938 Streamline Moderne style building also has local historical value, having originally served as an Oldsmobile sales and service center, according to the State Historic Resources Inventory.

A man who answered the phone for E.W. Merritt Farms, the property’s longtime owner, declined to comment for this story.

Hans Hagen, executive director of Mauli Ola Foundation, recruited professional surfers to teach surfing to children living with cystic fibrosis and make hospital visits to those too sick to go outside. In January, Hagen told the Independent his foundation’s staffers have largely been working from home during the pandemic.

Hagen and Miller didn’t return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

The fire has shuttered Laguna Motor Werks, the family-owned mechanic business operated for nearly 14 years by Laguna Beach residents Vic Hausner and Yi Jing Hausner. 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.

Instead, both sets of business owners have waited for nearly three months to hear from their landlord on when they’ll be allowed to reopen. Private fire investigators have probed the site on behalf of the involved insurance companies, the business owners said.

“The property owners want us to be back and we’re all moving in that direction currently,” Vic Hausner said.

The Hausners have been living off money paid out by their insurance policy but it doesn’t cover the abrupt loss of income. They’ve considered moving to a new site but there are few available properties zoned for automotive repair in Laguna Beach.

“People do not want to have to drive an extra 10 or 20 minutes when they’re used to coming here,” Hausner said.

Beyond the financial concerns, Hausner also misses taking care of his long-time customers as a small business owner.

“You build your clientele and work with them. This is a lot more than just working a job. You have a lot more skin in the game,” he said.

After losing access to his garage bay, Glinski was forced to move out of the Lake Elsinore house he shared with his menagerie of rescued pigs, dogs, horses, goats, and donkeys. He is the proud owner of Levi, a pot-bellied pig rescued by a Laguna Beach police officer after wandering off in 2016.

A Facebook fundraiser he launched in the days after the fire has raised about $3,000 of its $10,000 goal.

Glinski has muddled through by moving with the animals to his girlfriend’s house, which they partially rent out as an Airbnb. He’s taken a few car detailing jobs in town and scored a gig power-washing a multi-story Emerald Bay home after the recent brush fire.

As a younger man, Glinski worked as a mobile car detailer but the unforgiving tempo of hustling to the next job site has become unappealing, especially amid high gas prices. In Laguna Beach, neighbors often bristle when soapy water runs off the driveway.

“When I go to the shop and I can’t do anything it just takes me down that day. It’s just such a void,” he said.

The revelation that his business may likely have been shattered by a space heater brings up mixed emotions, Glinksi said.

“I’m really not angry at anybody. It’s just more exhausting than anything,” he said.

The night of the fire, Amanda Wilde had 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. She planned to toss all of her belongings that weren’t made of metal due to concerns regarding smoke pollution impacting her newborn baby.

Amanda Wilde and her daughter Hollis were among those displaced by the Jan. 7 structure fire in Laguna Beach. Photo courtesy of Amanda Wilde

The Laguna Beach Firefighters Association chipped in for gift cards totaling $1,000, which Wilde said she used to buy a car seat for her Jeep. A GoFundMe campaign benefitting the young family has raised about $2,500 of a $5,000 goal.

Wilde said she brought her newborn daughter home from the hospital on Feb. 12 and had been graciously taken in by a Laguna Beach homeowner until she found a permanent place to live.

“I wanted to live in the boathouse with the porthole windows with my daughter for the foreseeable future,” Wilde said. “To not have the specific place that I envisioned and still not have a permanent place to call home has been very hard and exhausting.”

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  1. Such a glorious 1938 Streamline Moderne building. For years I’ve driven by and smiled at the structure. Hopefully the owners will take the opportunity to bring the space back to it’s former glory.
    Time to upgrade the electrical and plumbing, toss the ugly lattice, perhaps paint it in the original Oldsmobile dealership colors(hey Laguna Historical Society, got any color photos of that era???), enhance crumbling the asphalt to look like the ocean blue and set the building to sail again.

    Best of luck to all displaced.

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