Foster City condo blaze devastates emigre families

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Three Foster City emigre families are trying to rebuild their lives after being burned out their condominiums last week.

Roman Kotik, a 63-year-old emigre who suffered a minor stroke a month ago, managed to help his daughter, who uses a wheelchair, his disabled wife and the family poodle escape from their third-floor apartment that night.

But the family lost almost everything to water and smoke damage, including Kotik's life insurance and investment business that he operated from a bedroom.

The family has home insurance but nothing to cover the business losses.

"I lost my income completely," Kotik said this week from a Burlingame hotel where the family is living temporarily. "But I'll bet God will show us what to do and how to do."

Funds to help the families have been set up at the Jewish Family and Children's Service branch office in Belmont and at Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City.

The late-night blaze on Feb. 27 destroyed six units at 1131 Compass Lane, according to the Foster City Fire Department. Another dozen apartments in the 49-unit building suffered extensive smoke and water damage. No one was hurt. By midweek, the cause of the fire was still undetermined.

The Red Cross offered immediate help to displaced families. JFCS and Temple Beth Jacob hope to provide both immediate and long-term aid to the Jewish families.

JFCS is offering clothes, food vouchers, furniture and cash grants. JFCS Belmont branch director David Reinstein said he knows of three Jewish families whose apartments were gutted and believes there might also be a fourth one.

Over the weekend, $1,000 was raised at Beth Jacob, where the Kotiks and fellow fire victim Leonid Korostyshevskiy are members.

The synagogue is also donating clothes and Jewish ritual objects.

Korostyshevskiy, who lived downstairs from the Kotiks and next door to the apartment where the fire began, escaped by running to his second-floor balcony and scaling down the building.

Unlike the Kotiks, who own their condo, Korostyshevskiy was leasing a room and had no renter's insurance.

"It's the first thing I'm going to buy," he said from a San Mateo hotel room where he is living temporarily with Red Cross assistance.

The 35-year-old artist and graphic designer lost at least one-third of his 150 paintings and charcoal sketches, as well as a computer and hard-drive filled with designs.

Even the artwork he was allowed to salvage in the days following the blaze is damaged by smoke or water.

"I try not to think about it a lot 'cause it hurts," he said. "I can't replace my art."

His father and stepmother, who own and lived in a third-floor condo, also suffered smoke damage. But they have home insurance, Korostyshevskiy said, so they're not applying for any emergency assistance.

Korostyshevskiy emigrated nearly five years ago from the Ukrainian city of Kiev. His wife, who isn't Jewish, is still trying to come to the United States.

One of the few bright spots for him right now is the fact that he doesn't do all of his work at home. He is employed by a San Mateo video-game company.

Kotik, who emigrated 17 years ago from Kiev, isn't as lucky.

He began working for himself out of his condo a decade ago after his wife underwent surgery for a brain tumor and heart trauma.

She could no longer work or care for their adult daughter, who uses a wheelchair due to problems from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

His entire office — computers and all of his files — was damaged beyond use in the blaze. And the rest of the family's possessions are covered with a thick, black sticky residue.

Kotik, who lost the vision in his left eye in his recent stroke, estimates he may need $20,000 to replace the office equipment and up to six months to rebuild his business.

Despite the tragedy, however, Kotik has already begun to put the incident in perspective.

When his family was allowed back in briefly after the fire, Kotik was able to recover immigration documents and a photograph of his great-grandparents.

"This is the most valuable thing in our life," he said.