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Resident of Condo that Caught Fire: 'This Has Been a Year of Loss'

Two weeks ago, these sisters and some of their closest friends and neighbors lost almost all that they own in a fire. Here's how they're coping — and how you can help.

There's a Tiffany lamp and a treasured portrait of their mom.

That's all that's really left of everything that sisters Cortney and Chelsea Labbe of Rochester Hills have ever owned.

They lost everything else when the condominium that they had called home for the past six years caught fire on June 13.

It was the : a building of 12 condos off Adams Road went up in flames during an already hot Wednesday afternoon.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. But the effects have been felt by the Labbe sisters, along with the rest of the residents of the Oakwood Park condominium complex.

Here's what has happened since the fire — and how you can help.

They lost everything

Cortney may look familiar, especially to Rochester Patch readers: she is the manager of , a newly opened Japanese steakhouse grill and bar downtown. 

While her condominium was burning, Cortney was at a funeral for a friend. She had left her home two hours earlier; her sister, Chelsea, was out of town, but her sister's boyfriend had come over to feed the sisters' pet ferrets and had left shortly after Cortney.

By the time Cortney left the funeral, turned on her phone and realized what was happening, her home was gone.

"I parked in a nearby subdivision and was sprinting down the road," Cortney said. "I saw my brother — he was sprinting toward the condo the other way. We ran into each other and just hugged. I couldn't believe what was happening." 

The Labbes lost everything: clothes, furniture, mementos and even the ferrets. 

Their mom died six months ago; when they went into their apartment three days after the fire, all that was untouched by the flames and smoke were their mom's portrait and a lamp she had owned. They also saved her ashes.

"It has been a year of loss," said Cortney. "I am thankful no one was injured, that we weren't home at the time. I am grateful. But this has all been overwhelming."

The dog, Oscar, saved on his birthday

There were 12 condo units affected by the fire. Half of them will be torn down and completely rebuilt; the other half, those on the opposite side of the building's firewall, were heavily damaged by water and smoke. Those homes will need to be gutted and fixed with new drywall. Those who lived there have been told they likely won't be able to return until January.

Barb Stites is the condominium association manager. She said the investigation is continuing as to the cause of the fire, but that it is likely electrical in nature. She is working with all of the displaced residents to help them in any way she can. They are also leaning on each other.

The other residents include Al and Peggy Smolinski, who lived across from the Labbes, and longtime resident Lester Wright, who lived downstairs. There's David Gilroy, a local musician, and Karen Nilsen, Brady and Katie Ather and Alexandria and Tony Mordovanakis, among others.

And Katie McLaughlin, whose dog, Oscar, was saved from the burning building.

McLaughlin, 29, is what you would call a lifelong resident: her parents met while living separately in the condos long ago. She herself has lived in her condo since she was 18.

It was Oscar's ninth birthday the day of the fire.

McLaughlin has been staying with a friend since that day. Her condo was on the side of the firewall that is being saved, though her belongings are all in storage and she won't be able to move back in for months.

"My whole life is in this condo," she said. "Even though people may think of it as just a condo, we owned them. This was my home.

"This is your worst nightmare." 

How to help the victims

Fundraising party: On Sunday night, friends of the Labbe sisters are hosting a fundraising event at in downtown Rochester. From 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., for $15, you'll get food, raffle tickets, door prizes and more. There will be a DJ and dancing. There's more information here.

Donate to this tax-exempt fund: In addition, through a fund created by the Social Philanthropists Foundation, a Rochester-based charity and events organization, you can help all of the victims of the Rochester Hills condo fire.

Rob Ray, a Rochester resident and president of the SPF, said he was inspired to help give back when he heard how many local families were displaced by the fire. 

Ray, along with Doug Van Slembrouck (SPF Vice President) and Ryan Jezdimir (SPF Treasurer), created a fund to help the victims. 

SPF is tax-exempt fiscal sponsorship agency, meaning when you make a donation to SPF for the fire victims, that donation is tax deductible. The donations will contribute to a fund that will be distributed amongst the victims with the help of the condo association manager.

For details, and to donate, visit www.the-spf.org

Drop off gift cards: Two local businesses have also volunteered to be a drop-off spot for donation of gift cards for the residents. in Rochester Hills and in downtown Rochester will collect donated gift cards — either for food and groceries or clothes or other items the residents might need — and make sure they get to those who need them most.

Michael Mc Carthy July 01, 2012 at 01:28 PM
It was mentioned that maybe the taxes would be waved by the city since the condo's are not being lived in, any news on this? Also the condo asst fees each month being waved? Any news on either of the items?
Cindy July 01, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Patch- thank you for this follow up story. This fire and its victims hit close to home as I lived in that complex for many years. I can't imagine their loss and think about them every time I drive by. I am glad to know how I can contribute and help them out.

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