The “Music Gals” hope to rebuild their house destroyed by fire

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SAN JOSE — After a fire burned down the Willow Glen home of Elaine Miller and Jane Silver last month, only burnt sheet music, family photos and a charred piano remained on their front lawn.

Among the losses were nine binders full of music, including 25 to 30 original songs, essential to their passion for performing dozens of times a year at area nursing homes.

“If you can imagine how much paper that is, I know that’s why we burned so much of it,” Miller said. “I just had so much music in there. Things that we were willing to pull out and do.

The duo known as ‘The Music Gals’ are determined to rebuild their approximately 1,200 square foot home and continue to bring music into the lives of hundreds of other seniors as they navigate the issues insurance, the fire investigation and the emotions of their losses.

The couple met nearly 30 years ago in the Los Angeles area and moved to the River Glen Community, a mobile home park, about 13 years ago. The couple first bonded over their shared love of music – Silver plays guitar and ukulele and Miller plays piano, guitar, viola and saxophone, among other instruments. After moving to the Bay Area to teach and retire, Miller and Silver began singing at area nursing homes. Over the years, their tight-knit group of musicians has grown to nine members.

Then, a fire broke out on March 13 around 10:30 a.m., just after the two men parked their car with their instruments and headed to the band’s rehearsal at the clubhouse in their mobile home park. One of their neighbors ran towards them shouting that their house was on fire.

“I ran over and saw there was flames here, flames there, all over the place,” Silver said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Miller added. “I thought he was joking. I couldn’t believe our house was on fire.

More than two dozen fire units responded to the blaze and had the blaze under control as of 11:18 a.m., according to fire department spokeswoman Erica Ray.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – April 1: Jane Silver and Elaine Miller’s mobile home at River Glen Mobile Home Park in San Jose, Calif. on Friday, April 1, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – April 1: Jane Silver and Elaine Miller look at a photo of themselves that was burned down when their home caught fire at River Glen Mobile Home Park in San Jose, California on Friday, April 1, 2022. ( Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

The fire department’s arson team investigated the incident and ruled out arson, listing the cause as “undetermined”. As of April 10, the fire department had responded to 1,187 fires in the city this year, compared to 1,228 fires last year at the same time.

Questions about the fire linger for Miller and Silver, who said a gas leak occurred weeks before the fire. Miller said their insurance company had ruled out the gas leak as the cause of the fire, but they still wanted PG&E to come check out the house.

“I’m upset that no one has seen this house except for the insurance company,” Miller said. “I wanted to see an inspection done by PG&E or the fire company or something.”

PG&E confirmed it initially responded to the fire “to shut down gas and/or electrical lines to make the situation safe for first responders”, but referred further questions to firefighters. A PG&E representative said the utility received a call on Feb. 1 about the possible smell of gas and confirmed a leak at the house line. Since the leak was within the jurisdiction of the owner, an independent contractor was called in to make repairs and put a cap on the gas and furnace. PG&E said it carried out a security check on February 2 to ensure that the repairs had been carried out correctly.

The fire department said the residents were “looking for a level of investigation that is not usual for us”, according to Ray, who added that the arson team inspected the site “very thoroughly” at the time. course of the investigation.

The Music Gals plan to rebuild their home on the same site – and launched a GoFundMe page, which raised more than $17,000 on Monday, to help raise funds.

It will take about six months and cost about $200,000 to rebuild their home, of which the insurance company will cover about two-thirds, the women say. The couple also lost approximately $30,000 worth of items, including three guitars, two pianos, a didgeridoo, rain sticks and maracas.

“Photo albums and personal stuff like that were priceless,” Silver said. “They just left.”

At their busiest, they played four gigs a week, but the pandemic shut them down almost entirely, leaving them with a gig once a month in Cupertino. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver and 1920s and 30s alumni, including “It Had to Be You”, are among their most popular songs among senior residents.

“I always feel better after rehearsal, even though we didn’t play those places,” Miller said. “It’s respiratory therapy. Singing is wonderful for you.

The couple said they felt a sense of community with their neighbors at the River Glen Mobile Park, where they had lived since moving to the Bay Area, and wanted to show them they could rebuild. They even recruited a few of their neighbors to join the Music Gals and perform with them at senior residences.

“Some people are scared after the fire and that’s one of the reasons I’m motivated to rebuild,” Miller said. “I don’t want people to feel like you can be wiped out in 20 minutes and I don’t want to feel like I can be wiped out in 20 minutes.”

Cheryl Magill, who lives down the street and saw Miller and Silver’s house go up in flames, said she had her house checked by an electrician after the fire.

“I certainly took steps that I might not have taken. I did a full electrical overhaul and made sure everything was fine,” Magill said. “I already had the electrician on the line, but I got a lot tougher as a result. I walked him over here and said, ‘Don’t let my house look like this afterwards.'”

“We are all compassionate to see these two wonderful, destitute ladies,” she added.

Miller and Silver are staying with friends, who have empty rooms in their house after all their children have left, and have received help from the Red Cross to buy medical devices, among other things.

Miller said she is currently working on a song about being homeless.

“We’ll have to come up with a positive vision or I won’t want to sing it,” she said.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – April 1: Jane Silver looks at a photo of her and Elaine Miller that was burned when their home caught fire at River Glen Mobile Home Park in San Jose, California on Friday, April 1, 2022. ( Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
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