For almost one week, the Rathjen family has been trying to pick up the pieces
Clothes, food, furniture and years of memories that the Rathjen family had in a one-story home on Haley Street were all lost in a one-alarm fire that damaged the entire living space of the home.
Six people who were living in the house escaped safely but not without a short struggle, said Johnny Rathjen, who has lived in the home with his 54-year-old father, Mark, for months.
The 27-year-old was asleep when the fire began about 3:37 p.m. on Jan. 15. He was abruptly woken up by his girlfriend who was shouting that the house was on fire.
“All you heard was this crackling sound,” said Rathjen. “I opened up the door, and it was all black. … pitch black. You couldn’t see flames, just a red glow.”
While all of the home’s occupants escaped without injury, the past week has been a struggle for Mark and Johnny Rathjen. The whereabouts of the other four occupants is unknown.
Kimberly Rathjen, daughter of Mark and sister of Johnny, said the entire incident shook up her family.
She rushed to the Newark home Sunday after receiving calls that the house, which was owned by her late grandmother, was on fire. When she arrived, her brother, Johnny, had just escaped from the home and was assisting a woman occupant who had a preexisting health issue.
“My brother tuned around, and he was all black [from ash],” said Kimberly Rathjen, tears forming in her eyes. “My dad was all black… and he has a burn on his arm, just from it being so hot. …You hear about these stories, but you don’t expect it to happen to your own family.”
The Rathjens are currently working on finding a new home after Alameda County Fire Department officials deemed the home inhabitable.
“If you go in the house and look up, you can see the sky,” said Johnny Rathjen.
American Red Cross paid for a room at a local motel for the pair, but that offer expired mid-week. Kimberly Rathjen said she has done her best to keep her dad, who is unemployed due to disability, and brother, who just begun a new job, sheltered.
“I’m just trying to keep a roof over their head [but] money goes fast,” Kimberly Rathjen said.
Donations have poured in from local organizations, like , and neighboring residents. Kimberly Rathjen said the family has been overwhelmed with the contributions they have received.
“We’re very grateful for what we’ve gotten already... It’ll all work out in the end,” she said.
Newark resident Jennifer Hicklin said she is coordinating home-cooked dinners for the family and that anyone who would like to assist with the effort can contact her at Jennifer.Hicklin@gmail.com.
Community members who would like to assist or donate to the Rathjen family are also invited to contact Kimberly Rathjen at Kimberly.Rathjen@yahoo.com or at 510-228-5924.