Joseph and Jerrie Hern lived in their house in The Cove, a desert community in La Quinta, for 43 years — until everything changed on Aug. 23, 2022.
On that day, at around 3:30 a.m., their 26-year-old grandson, James Nava, woke to find their house was on fire.
“If my grandson hadn’t woken up to go to the bathroom, we all would have perished,” Hern said.
“I remember him yelling, ‘Grandpa, the house is on fire!’” Hern recalled.
“I told him to go get Grandma up and get out of the house. We all got out of the house with our underwear and T-shirts.”
Family lost everything
The Herns lost everything within minutes. All of their documents, photos and mementos were reduced to ash.
“We didn’t have time to grab any wallets or anything,” he said. “We lost all of our identification cards.
” Hern said there must have been close to 80 firefighters surrounding house, but they could not engage the fire until the electricity was shut off. It was too dangerous, the family was told. The Herns stood in disbelief as they watched their house burn down. A couple of cats and the family dog perished in the flames.
Almost a year and a half later, the Herns are still fighting to get permits to rebuild their home.
“We’ve gotten 12 permits that are required for the build so far,” Joseph said.
“We’re down to the last one to review and get done today, but we still have no idea when or if our house will be rebuilt. We only had certain amount of insurance, and we don’t know if the rebuilding costs will be covered until all of the permits are done.”
Joseph, 79, and Geraldine Hern, 80, are residing in Palm Desert while they sort things out. Joseph works for Ralphs in Bermuda Dunes.
“The first time I retired, with 33 years of service, was in 2002,” he said.
“Then inflation ramped up and everything was eating away at my retirement funds, so I went back to work a little over a year and a half ago. I had been working for four months with Ralphs when the fire hit, and I had to take a two-month leave of absence.”
As they wait, the Herns are living on edge every day.
Recently, a woman drove down their street at 70 miles per hour and crashed into the back of his car, pushing it into his wife’s car. He had his car for only two months when both vehicles were totaled. The driver of the vehicle that hit their cars had no driver’s license or insurance.
“She got a ticket for having no insurance or driver’s license, but that doesn’t help us any,” Joseph said.
“We barely had money to figure anything out,” he continued.
“Have you ever tried to go to the DMV to replace a driver’s license with nothing? No identification of any kind other than telling them who you are?
“It took three months before we could get keys to the cars. And now, they’re totaled.”
Still, Joseph says he is grateful for what he has.
“I was so thankful the union sent us money to help us buy clothes and food,” he said. “We appreciate everything Joe (Duffle) and the union has done for us. They went above and beyond what can be expected of a union.
“One of my co-workers at Ralphs told our union rep what happened, and he told Joe. He even went to the UFCW International Union to get additional financial help.
“Joe and the union helped us in our most desperate time of need. That’s one of the reasons we have a union. We fight together for what is right.”