Uncertainty Lies Ahead For Victim of Trailer Park Fire

Photo by Aaron Castrejon.

Matthew Alexander stood in the midst of his burned out mobile home February 6, peering around to see what was still salvageable.

“We’re homeless now. We have nowhere to go. I don’t know what to do,” Alexander said.

A trailer fire February 4 at the Tropics Trailer Park, 428 E. Route 66, destroyed Alexander’s unit, which stood mere inches from where the fire ignited and claimed the life of who Alexander identified as Brent Gielen, a lifelong Glendora resident.

This is all that remains of the trailer owned by resident Brent Geilen. Photo by Aaron Castrejon.

This is all that remains of the trailer owned by resident Brent Gielen. Photo by Aaron Castrejon.

The air was still putrid with the smell of charred wood and tragedy. Nothing much was left inside Alexander’s 5th-wheel mobile home, which was red-tagged by the city of Glendora, along with Gielen’s.

The floor of his trailer was piled with wet soot. furniture and fixtures were charred. Melted plastic cascaded from a burned television like wax on a candle.

Alexander, a six-year resident of the trailer park, was about to head out to work Thursday morning when his 26-year-old son, Cory, also a resident of the trailer park, saw a pillar of black smoke churning from one of the units. They both ran to help.

“We opened the door and flames just shot out. I tried to go in there, but there was a TV blocking the door, it was melted,” Alexander, 52, said. “I screamed to [Gielen] and he yelled. I said ‘just come to me and I’ll carry you through.’”

Alexander’s lungs were filled with smoke and he felt like he couldn’t breathe as he tried to save his friend.

Gielen’s screams quickly fell silent.

“I knew he was gone. I just concentrated on my place,” Alexander said.

Alexander’s 18-year-old son Daniel was still sleeping in his dad’s trailer with both their dogs. All were able to escape before flames engulfed their mobile home.

Alexander’s mother-in-law, Lorna Bryant, who turned 77 the day of the fire, lives one unit north of Gielen. Her mobile home suffered some smoke damage, while a door on the south side of her unit was melted shut.

Alexander, a widowed father, can’t even drive his car, his keys having been melted in the fire.

Gielen’s girlfriend, Anita, was initially believed to have perished in the fire. To Alexander’s shock, she emerged from a bus near the trailer park hours after the fire, unaware of what happened.

Matthew Alexander enters his burned out mobile home, days after the fire destroyed almost everything he owns. Photo by Aaron Castrejon.

Matthew Alexander enters his burned out mobile home, days after the fire destroyed almost everything he owns. Photo by Aaron Castrejon.

Alexander helped care for the couple, occasionally driving them around. He baked blueberry muffins for them the morning of the fire. The untouched muffins sat charred on Alexander’s burned kitchen counter.

Gielen was known as a gruff, but quiet man who enjoyed smoking a cigarette near the entrance to the trailer park. Some of his family members were busy removing what was left of his belongings. His family was unwilling to talk, but allowed GCN to take photos of the trailer.

Amidst having to pick up the pieces of what’s left of his life, Alexander found hope amongst tragedy in the form of a generous woman who Alexander went to to have his dogs groomed.

The pet groomer from Covina’s Bark Place Pet Grooming, 934 N. Citrus Ave., learned of Alexander’s losses and not only did she pay for one night at the Red Roof Inn in San Dimas, but also groomed, fed and watched his dogs free of charge.

“It’s been very emotional for me. I can’t believe people and how generous they are,” Alexander said.

A gofundme page has been set up to help the Alexanders with expenses.

Alexander, his son and dogs are staying in the Red Roof for the week. Beyond that, he is not sure of where they will stay.

“I would like to stay here until I was ready to move. I don’t know how to tell you how it feels to have everything you own just gone,” Alexander said.

*This story corrects an earlier version that misspelled Gielen’s last name.

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