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Community rallies around displaced family
June 02, 2010, 01:09 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

A fundraiser will be held this Saturday to help the family, partially shown here, left homeless after a fire destroyed their Redwood City home.

The April fire that ripped through the three-bedroom apartment of Fuka Tumanuirao in April stole the home and belongings from the family of 13 and left the mother hospitalized after she jumped from the second-story window to escape the blaze.

But on Saturday, Redwood City firefighters, neighbors and teachers from the children’s school are rallying together at a fundraising barbecue, trying to put a roof over the family’s head and return them to some semblance of normalcy.

"I told the grandmother, you are Redwood City residents. We have to do something,” said Janet Borgens who is spearheading the fundraiser along with Taft School teacher Michelle Territo and the Redwood City Fire Department.

The family needs everything but frankly would be better served by monetary donations right now because they don’t have a home yet in which to place the items, Borgens said.

The Salvation Army has agreed to store some big goods that have already been offered. Money, too, lets the family purchase preferred products.

"Anything is wonderful, but when we’re not even sure what brand of toothpaste a family uses, money lets them buy what they normally would have,” Borgens said.

Money aside, there is at least one item Borgens said fundraisers are seeking to purchase: a PlayStation 3.

The children of the family — which crammed seven children ages 14 months to 8 and six adults in a three-bedroom apartment — saved their money for the gaming unit, now melted and useless. Borgens said they aren’t looking for a handout but rather a unit that can be purchased at a fair price.

But while the children were quick to name the PlayStation as a want, they had one that beat even that — mom.

Fuka was severely injured in the two-alarm blaze April 28 while trying to save her son and then herself.

After the fire began at 3296 Rolison Road, Fuka thought one of her children was still inside and crawled through the building until she became disoriented from the smoke. She jumped from the second-story window to escape, surviving with second-degree burns and a shattered spine. He had been outside the entire time and the rest of the family was fine. Fuka, however, was airlifted to UCSF Medical Center where she remains.

After two surgeries, she can finally move the toes on one foot and looks forward to walking out of the hospital rather than being wheeled. The family, which is staying in the East Bay with an aunt, visits every day and Borgens said the hope is to find them a new home on this side of the Bay near the children’s schools.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation but was initially deemed accidental, said Redwood City fire Capt. Wade Green.

The main focus now, though, is moving forward from the fire. Redwood City firefighters have a nonprofit called Create a Smile which helps families like that in the Rolison Road blaze pick up the pieces.

"We manage the incident and go on to the next emergency response but families are stuck still dealing with the long-term consequences of the event,” Green said.

The nonprofit is working with Borgens and Territo on Saturday’s barbecue.

Green said he sees emergencies often but that fire, particularly Fuka’s leap, was "something extraordinary.”

The fire department is providing the food for the barbecue but Green said food donations — hamburgers, hot dogs, buns — are welcome.

"Anything they can give us in the form of barbecue stuff allows us to redirect the money we’d use to the family members,” Green said.

Info box:

The fundraising barbecue is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 5 at Andrew Spinas Park, Second Avenue and Bay Road, Redwood City.

Checks may be brought to the barbecue or sent to the Salvation Army (with the family’s name noted or attached) to Janet Borgens, 18 Yarnell Place, Redwood City, 94063.

Donations can also go to the San Mateo Credit Union which will convert cash and checks into Visa cards.

For more information or to donate food for the barbecue, call 780-7400 and ask for Redwood City fire Capt. Wade Green.

 Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. 

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