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World War II Veteran loses home in Woolsey fire on 92nd Birthday

Posted at 8:25 PM, Nov 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-15 23:25:31-05

23ABC News has been following the heart break in Malibu as entire communities are still burning in the Woolsey Fire and crews are still battling the blaze.

The Now's Tori Cooper captured a story of survival and perseverance, as a World War Two veteran's Malibu home burned to the ground on his 92nd birthday.

Marcella and James Shirk have been married for 62 years and have lived in their Malibu home for 41 years. Marcella fled Czechoslovakia when Hitler invaded and her husband James Shirk was shot in Normandy on Omaha beach and together the two now survived the Woolsey Fire and are determined to rebuild their home.

While hundreds of Malibu homes have already burned to the ground one of those homes also belonged to 82-year-old Marcella Shirk and her husband 92-year-old James Shirk,"Oh my God there's nothing here... unbelievable... oh my God this so sad, looks like a war hit this, a war zone," Marcella Shirk said while she looked at what was left of her home for the first time.

James a former Navy Veteran was getting his morning coffee with friends on his 92nd birthday last Friday when he realized the fire was coming toward his home and he had to rush back. Meanwhile his wife Marcella was already packing what she could, "I saw the smoke and I thought it will be a while before it gets here, If it does get here. The next thing I know I look up and there's the fire on the ridge on it's way down this side and by the time I got ready and grabbed a few things and came out of the house it was half way down that hill already and I knew we were in trouble as far as the fire was concerned and this is what happened," James Shirk said.

Shirk's birthday plans with family quickly turned to ash, "A big Roman candle,” James Shirk said. “Well it was his birthday Friday we had plans the whole family was going to get together at Malibu Fish," Marcella Shirk said. Instead James had to wave goodbye to his 1930 Model A Ford Classic car, beach view and home filled with 41 years of memories with his wife Marcella. Wednesday, Shirk and family members revisited the house for the first time, making the best of the situation, uncovering what was left of the home, what survived the fire and what didn’t.

"I lost Persian rugs that we're bought in the 50's in Karachi Pakistan, I lost pottery that my mom's sister gave me that were over a hundred years old, I'm an artist and I lost all of my artwork everything that was in here I didn't think to take all of my paintings everything is gone. Like I said the house can be rebuild but we can not replace what we lost," Marcella said.

Despite the losses James Shirk said times like this remind him of the strength it took for him to be a Navy Veteran who survived Omaha Beach on D-Day. Shirk now using those same life skills to persevere through the Woolsey Fire, "Because that's what makes a man and it gives you your courage and your own thinking of responsibility and to do things." 

Raised during the depression era in the Midwest Shirk grew up with values surrounding hard work before he was drafted to the service and the couple said that even though they may be Malibu residents they are still self made people, "We're just ordinary middle class people you know we came out here we could hardly afford this place actually but we bought it, we built it ourselves," Marcella said.

Lucky to be alive, unlike the other civilians who died in the Woolsey Fire that has already burned more than 98,000 acres of land and injured three firefighters, Shirk is now just looking forward to the day where he is finished rebuilding his home, “I just hope I live long enough to do it,” James Shirk said.

If you would like to help the Shirks contact 23ABC News at 661-637-2320 and we will help put you in contact with them.