Rising From the Ashes

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Evelien Lupo describes her family’s current situation with her husband, John, in the back office at Malibu Vet Clinic.

The Malibu Times follows the recovery and rebuild process of locals who lost their homes in the Woolsey Fire in the “Rising from the Ashes” series. This time, we spoke to Dr. John and Evelien Lupo, who lost their home located in Malibu Park, an area severely affected by the fire. We met the two at their local business, Malibu Vet Clinic, on a rainy January morning.

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John and his family were running late to evacuate due to his responsibility to the boarding animals at his clinic.

“Literally, as I got the last animal out the door, I could see the flames coming down the hill across the road there,” he said. “I knew at that point, time was getting close.”

John, Evelien and their five kids, Frankie, Coco, Madeus, Levi and Vienne—evacuated to a hotel in Santa Barbara. John’s employees were able to take animals that remained at the clinic and care for them in their own homes.

In the days after the fire, John began making day trips to Malibu as soon as the smoke cleared.

“I just felt like the best way I could help the community is to do what I do best, which is help their pets and their animals,” he explained. He began working out of his car with a network of volunteers to aid affected animals.

The family of seven made it back to the burned property nearly two weeks after the fire first began, once evacuations were lifted.

“We walked around with the kids and just kind of talked through the whole thing—what they were thinking, what they were feeling,” Evelien said. Their three-year-old daughter, on seeing the destruction, said, “Our house is broken.”

As for housing after the fire, the family stayed in the garage of a property rented by Waveside Church Pastor Dave Dowler for a week. From there, they moved to a house on Broad Beach that one of John’s clients had been planning to sell. After living there rent-free in December, and paying rent in January and February, the Lupos now need another property, as the owner looks to sell. 

As renters of their Malibu Park home, they do not have to deal with debris removal and rebuilding, but as Evelien described, “It’s definitely hard as well, as renters.”

“’Cause we were in that place for eight years and we loved that, our little spot on Earth,” she said, adding: “It was like our little spot that we had for our family and we can’t go back to that now. So when we go back to that neighborhood, it’s not ours in any way. It’s completely gone.”

John said, “People have come to us and they found out that we were renting and there’s been comments like ‘Oh, OK, well that’s not so bad.’”

“In certain respects, well, two things: One, we didn’t really have insurance like, we had minimal insurance. They gave us $5,900 for everything we owned in the house,” he later said.

Second, echoing Evelien, he explained they don’t have “their spot” anymore. 

Though there was “joyous celebration” when they found out the clinic survived the fire, there was also some apprehension. With evacuations and no electricity, the clinic had been out of business for nearly a month after the fire. Any service provided in the initial days of the fire were done for free—similar to what many restaurants did in the area, he said, “It was just a necessity that had to be done.” 

But bills kept rolling in. 

“I will say our insurance for the business did not cover what we needed for loss of business,” John said. It was clients and friends who kept them afloat.

A lot of his clients, some of whom were displaced to areas like Santa Monica, Oxnard and Thousand Oaks, are making the drive—to John and Evelien’s surprise—to the Malibu Vet Clinic.

“The thing that got us through is the generosity of the people of Malibu—no two ways about it,” he reiterated.

In the months since the fire, John and Evelien, in particular, have focused on maintaining perspective, to “still have joy, still have moments of happiness” during this confusing time.

“I think there’s some people that probably should take the role of holding people accountable, but it can’t be me,” Evelien said. “I don’t have it in me, you know.”

Instead, she and John focus on maintaining a sense of normalcy for their kids and for the clinic.