This morning, the stench of smoke lingered in the air throughout one east-Redding neighborhood, hours after all the emergency vehicles had left, including ambulances that carried 66-year-old wife and husband Matilde and Jesus Manzo, parents of seven, grandparents to 19, owners of La Cabana Mexican Restaurant in downtown Redding.
The caution-taped encircled front yard outside the charred remains of the Manzo family home was wet with soot and water from firefighters’ hoses.
Water droplets occasionally fell from the roof. Through what used to be the Manzo’s living-room window were indistinguishable twisted shapes and charred pieces – so much black and gray and charcoal – alongside tall dining room chairs against a long table draped with the curling edges of a cheerful Christmas tablecloth.
Huddled together in the front yard were many of the Manzo children and grandchildren, red-eyed and shocked – some with sooty hands – as they spoke softly, sometimes in Spanish, getting updates from a sister and brother who’d just returned from the hospital. The pair of siblings were able to see their parents before being airlifted from Mercy Medical Center in Redding to the burn unit at UC Davis Medical Center.
The siblings shared the good news, that both parents were alive. They shared the bad news, that their father is in the worst condition from smoke inhalation.
One sister described her father as strong, even for his age, but guessed that he’d probably tried to reach his two grandchildren and his youngest daughter, unaware that they’d already escaped the flaming home.
The young mother said she woke a little before 5 a.m. to the sound of glass breaking. She opened the bedroom door to investigate. Smoke poured in. She said she screamed from her room to her parents, trying to wake them, but had to shut the door because the smoke was too thick and she couldn’t breathe. She said she got her children outside through the bedroom window, and had no choice but to also jump to the ground below on her still-recuperating foot that had recently had surgery and contained multiple pins.
As she spoke, she rubbed her foot as she leaned against her car that had been in the driveway beside her father’s pickup. The fronts of both vehicles were melted. As the family stood together and talked, the car’s front bumper fell to the ground.
A pair of neighbors walked to the edge of the driveway with a container of water for the family, and said they’d be there for them if they needed anything. The family thanked the couple.
Another Manzo daughter, speaking through a black face mask, described how she rushed, still in her nightclothes, to her parents’ home before they were taken away by EMT’s. When asked how she, as well as so many of her siblings, nieces and nephews, had arrived so quickly, she laughed and said it’s because they all live close to their parents; some within mere blocks.
Her younger brother described the street scene outside his parents’ home when he arrived, so packed with multiple fire engines and emergency vehicles that he had to drive in a back way to reach the home. The Manzo siblings said they recognized some of the first responders as regular customers.
According to a Redding Fire Department press release, engines responded to the structure fire at approximately 5 a.m. The first units reported a well-involved single-story single-family dwelling where three occupants had evacuated, but two occupants remained inside. According to the press release, Redding Fire personnel rescued the two occupants, who were transported to a local hospital for treatment. Additional personnel were requested to the scene to help combat the blaze.
The fire is under investigation by the Redding Fire Department.
The Manzo family
Matilde and Jesus Manzo have owned their family-operated La Cabana Mexican Restaurant for more than 25 years, and in that time they’ve been productive, beloved Shasta County citizens. Since the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve served as stellar examples of compliance, following all the state COVID guidelines, even as some of their neighboring restaurants have remained open in defiance of the governor’s mandates.
It’s an understatement to refer to this family as close-knit. For years grandfather Manzo has been known as the quiet-spoken dependable chauffer who’s not just driven his grandchildren to and from school (when it’s in session) and athletics and activities, but he regularly delivered Mexican food prepared at La Cabana to his grandchildren so they’d have a hot lunch, rather than cafeteria food. Before the pandemic, it was common to see Manzo grandchildren doing homework at the counter.
The elder Manzos’ home was the hub, the gathering of so many celebrations, from birthdays and graduations to Christmas.
It’s scarcely two weeks before Christmas. Matilde and Jesus Manzo’s home is destroyed. There will be no Christmas dinner there this year.
But that’s not the most pressing thing on the Manzo children’s minds. What matters most now is their parents’ full recovery. To make matters worse — if that’s possible – because of COVID-19 hospital restrictions, the children are unable to be with their parents during their hospitalization.
The best and worst of social media
Within hours of the Manzo home fire, social media was ablaze with the sad news that was shared and re-shared. Some information was true. Other information was not.
It’s true the Manzo couple suffered smoke inhalation and they are being treated at UC Davis Medical Center. It’s not true that the Manzo couple suffered life-threatening burns. Nor is it true that any pets perished in the fire.
It’s true the young mother and her two children are technically homeless, and lost all their belongings in the fire, as did her parents, but they will stay with one of her many siblings.
Many people want to help. They ask how the community and customers can be of assistance. And for that, the Manzo family is grateful. However, their greatest wish is for prayers for Matilde and Jesus Manzo for their full recovery.
But right now, they’re grateful for the community concern, and most of all, gratitude to all the emergency personnel who converged upon their parents home before sunrise to save their parents and extinguish the fire before it reached neighbors’ homes.
“Please tell them all thank you,” said one of the Manzo daughters. “We appreciate them so much.”
And to all those who say they have items to donate – dishes, furniture, clothing – one of the Manzo sisters looked overwhelmed at the very thought of such an outpouring of material items.
“They have no home to come home to,” she said. “There’s no place to put anything. We don’t know what they want. First, they need to get well.”
Right now, because of COVID restrictions in hospitals, the Manzo couple’s family members cannot be with them, and that’s one of the hardest things for the family to endure of all.
How to help?
On the one hand, the Manzos possess the the kind of work ethic that would make it a foreign concept to ask for a dime of help. They’ve worked hard for everything they have.
But on the other hand, there’s been such a resounding expression of desire from the community to help the Manzo family that it would be unthinkable to not do something to assist this family that’s such an important part of the North State.
As the days pass, updates will be provided here on Food for Thought/A News Cafe about any fundraising platforms set up to help the Manzos. In the meantime, as the family gains its bearings, it may take a day or two, or more, before La Cabana opens. For now, you may see this sign upon its front window, beside Yesenia Manzo’s unfinished holiday window paintings.
Eventually, the restaurant will re-open, and when it does, the most tangible way the community can show its support of the Manzos is to order food to go. Another option, once the restaurant opens, it to purchase holiday gift cards.
Until then, prayers, and more prayers.
UPDATE: Click here for the GoFundMe account created to help the Manzo family with immediate expenses related to the fire.