A landmark Huntington Beach home that looks like a medieval castle from the street and draws annual Halloween crowds was damaged in a fire Thursday evening.
The blaze, which broke out at about 6 p.m., tore through the upper level of the Bermuda Drive house, which has stone walls and turrets and is topped with gargoyles.
With a fire station just up the street, crews got there quickly, said Huntington Beach Fire Department spokesman Eric Blaska.
Flames and smoke could be seen billowing from the attic.
Despite the home’s unique layout and size, firefighters were able to get the blaze mostly under control in about 13 minutes, he said.
“The attic is almost as big as a third story,” Blaska said. “It was a little bit of a challenge to get in there because it’s so big and configured differently than any other house.”
Firefighters remained for hours, checking for any possible issues around the property.
One person was injured and taken to a hospital, authorities said Thursday night. The homeowner, Dominic Menaldi, said Friday morning his girlfriend’s hands were burned trying to put out the flames.
Though fire authorities say investigators are still determining the origin of the blaze, Menaldi said it happened while his girlfriend was in the attic getting out the stored Christmas lights.
Menaldi, who’d left the house briefly at the time, said they planned to put up about 50 strings of Christmas lights on the house.
“She was trying them to make sure they worked … they caught fire,” he said. “Then there was storage stuff up there … it acted like an inferno.”
His Halloween and Christmas decorations — also what the house is known for — were all burned.
“The whole attic is gone,” Menaldi said. The outside of the house is intact, he and fire officials said, but the inside has substantial damage, including smoke and water damage on the second and main floors.
Menaldi bought the house on the corner of Bermuda Drive and Magnolia Street in 2001, when he was working security at a rock company. Told he could take materials home, he said, his castle idea came to life.
It took him 11 years to get it built. At one point, it endured a rat infestation from a neighboring landfill.
Now, the house is red-tagged: deemed unsafe to inhabit.
And its owner is weighing his next steps.
When restaurant activity dried up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so did Menaldi’s business of doing security for them.
“Some of the places that I worked at are out of business … and I’ve been losing money,” he said, adding that his savings were wiped out.
“And then I got to the point where I had to pick between health insurance and my house insurance.”
“The house, the outside of it is six inches of stone,” he said. “So I figured it wouldn’t burn.”
Menaldi became emotional as he spoke about not being allowed back into the house. He spent the night in his car and was hoping to find a way to stay there — even in an RV out front — and perhaps eventually rebuild.
As he stood in front of the charred house Friday morning, passersby stopped to give him a hug, leave him a meal or a card with some money to help. When asked if he knew those gift-givers, he said no. Friends at the scene described him as generous.
Some may remember Menaldi for making headlines that had nothing to do with his house. In 1999, he wrestled an 801-pound Grizzly named Dakota at the Hollywood Park Casino – and obviously, lived to talk about it.