Help offered for apartment fire victims

GARDNERVILLE -- A bank account has been established to help victims of a Gardnerville Ranchos fire that forced three families from their homes.

Donations may be made to the Sequoia Village Fire Relief Fund, account number 7502131969, to help the families.

Tomasina Cioffi and Dan Hochgurtel were making wedding plans when the fire started in the Sequoia Village apartment complex near Cioffi's home.

The early morning fire quickly spread through the building at 1284 Redwood Circle.

"It was so fast," Hochgurtel said. "It seemed like it was spreading in no time. It just raced over in about five minutes, I thought ours was gone too."

Just hours before, Hochgurtel and Cioffi had been wrapping up the final details on plans for their wedding this Saturday. They recently bought the home located just off of Tillman Lane and everything seemed ready to go.

For several minutes, as Hochgurtel and Cioffi watched the devastation of three other families losing their homes, it appeared as if their dreams would be going up in flames as well.

However, firefighters brought the blaze under control just inches away from Hochgurtel and Cioffi's home. The home lost electricity and water and suffered some smoke damage.

"Something like this just makes you look at things differently," Cioffi said. "You stop worrying about so many little thing and you just thank God.

"I was obsessed about centerpieces just a few days ago and now it's like I don't care if the centerpieces are there or not."

Tenants Maria Cruz, her husband and three children, Steve Buckingham, his wife and daughter, and Ben Artellan all lost their homes and nearly all of their personal belongings.

"It's very traumatic for the kids," Cioffi said. "They're very emotional. One keeps asking her mom what she did wrong."

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined but fire officials believe it started at 8:50 a.m., probably outside the fenced back yards of one of the middle units.

About 50 firefighters responded to the scene and brought the fire under control in 30 minutes.

"Once they got there, they got it under control very quickly," said Tammy Taylor, president of the Sequoia Village homeowner's association and coordinator with the Family Support Council of Douglas County. "The fire travelled through the outside and then in through the attic area jumping unit to unit.

Taylor helped Artellan and the Cruz family find apartments on Monday and was seeking one for the Buckinghams.

The Family Support Council is accepting donations of clothing and furniture for the families.

"I think you can feel nothing but compassion when you stand there and watch your neighbors' houses burn to the ground," Taylor said. "People were just trying to help out any way they could."


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