In the wake of a devastating fire that destroyed the home they were renting and all of their belongings, Jason and Trusiana Olliver, along with their three children, are trying to put their lives back together.
"I work very hard not to break down and cry in front of my kids everyday," said Trusiana Olliver on Tuesday, her voice shaking with emotion. "But it's so hard. We aren't rich, so the things we owned — it's not like they were expensive, but they had sentimental value. The fact that they weren't expensive made them all the more special to us."
The fire, which occurred on April 24, damaged much of the home the Ollivers had been renting in the 700 block of South McDowell Boulevard. Petaluma Fire units responded to the residence to find the garage door to the home opened, releasing a large amount of smoke.
According to fire officials, the fire originated in the garage and created a large buildup of heat and smoke that caused a fireball to explode in front of the garage. The fireball caused a burn injury to one of the firefighters who had opened the door and was preparing to douse the garage in water. The firefighter, whose identity the department would not release, sustained second-degree burns on his upper left arm. He was treated at the scene and later taken to Petaluma Valley Hospital. His injury is considered moderate and he is expected to return to work in the next few weeks.
The fire was under control within 20 minutes, but Battalion Chief Jeff Holden said the residence suffered extensive damage during the blaze. The garage was completely destroyed, causing part of the roof to collapse, Holden said. The fire also caused severe damage to the kitchen and the rest of the home. The damage was estimated to be about $50,000 to the home itself and another $25,000 to the Ollivers' belongings.
Fire officials determined the fire was accidental, though investigators and the Ollivers disagree about the initial cause of the blaze. Fortunately, all family members were uninjured during the fire, and the family's dog and two cats were also unharmed.
For now, the family is staying with Trusiana Olliver's brother in Petaluma. "It's crowded, though I am happy that it's a familiar place for the kids," she said. "But when they look at me and tell me they want to go home and sleep with their blankets, in their beds, it just breaks my heart."
Several fundraisers for the Ollivers have already been held, including a dine-and-donate event at Beyond the Glory Monday night. Family friend Amy Taylor, who has been instrumental in setting up assistance efforts, said the event was very successful and a major morale boost for the family.
"It went really well," said Taylor. "We had people coming from the entire community, which meant so much to Jason and Trusiana (Olliver) and the kids."
Trusiana Olliver said that both Meadow School, where her 12-year-old twins Myles and Masey attend, and Kenilworth Junior High, where her 14-year-old son Jaden is an eighth-grader, have been extremely supportive.
"I can't thank everyone in Petaluma enough for all the help and support they've offered to my family," she added.
A support fund has been set up at Summit Bank in Petaluma where donations to the family can be made.