In this season of giving, Long Beach neighbors are pitching in to assist the occupants of an East Pine Street home that burned to the ground Wednesday.
A fast-moving fire gutted the two-family home at 419 East Pine St. at around 4 p.m., apparently caused by a Christmas tree that was engulfed in flames shortly after it was plugged in, according to relatives of the victims. The blaze is under investigation.
All of the possessions of the occupants, Howie Poplinger and his girlfriend, Anna Patino, were destroyed in the fire, including their clothes and all the Christmas gifts that were wrapped under the tree. Patino escaped with minor injuries, but her two pets, a dog and a cat, perished in the blaze.
Three upstairs tenants who were home also managed to escape relatively unscathed. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries.
“The house was engulfed in flames,” said Steven Imperato, Patino’s son-in-law. “They lost everything.”
He said the Red Cross immediately helped out by giving them a $600 debit card so they could buy clothes and food. Patino is now staying with her daughter in Island Park.
Immediately after the fire, neighbors from blocks around offered to help, asking if they needed food or shelter. “When we were out there, cars were passing by with local people asking how they could help,” said Imperato, who lived in the upstairs apartment from 2002-07 before moving to Plainview.
“She [Patino] is so amazed about what everyone is doing for them that she almost passed out,” said Imperato. “The community has really come through, offering food, a place to stay and to pay for a hotel room.”
In addition, Bob Gentry, who has known Patino for about 40 years, has established a relief fund for them, setting it up on Thursday at Citibank, at 135 East Park Ave., asking that all checks be made out to the disaster fund in Poplinger’s name. Anyone who wishes to donate can call Gentry for more information at (413) 824-4645.
“It’s about people helping people,” said Gentry, who recently moved from Massachusetts to Staten Island, but grew up with Patino in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “It’s about people coming together in this holiday season and showing that they have a heart. People should band together when someone has a problem.
“The victims are very warm-hearted,” he added. “Anna has one of the biggest hearts there is.”
Gentry said he is also considering getting in touch with a few musicians to possibly do a benefit concert for the fire victims.
Patino’s daughter Francesca stayed with her when her home became flooded during Hurricane Irene and now Patino is staying with her daughter while her home is rebuilt, hopefully sometime around mid-spring, Imperato said. The daughter’s flood-damaged home was fixed about two weeks ago, he said.
“I just want to thank everyone, including the firemen who did a wonderful job,” Imperato said. “And Bob Gentry, he’s just a great guy.”