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Fire Wipes Out OC Nonprofit That Helps People Get Back Into The Workforce

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The warehouse and corporate office of Working Wardrobes at 1851 Kettering Street in Irvine were destroyed in a fire on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. (Photo from Working Wardrobes Twitter feed)
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A four-alarm fire early Sunday wiped out the inventory and Irvine headquarters of Working Wardrobes, a nonprofit dedicated to providing professional attire and job training for people who've fallen on hard times and are trying to get back into the workforce.

The fire was first reported at 5:50 a.m. Sunday. Video posted on Twitter by the Orange County Fire Authority showed massive flames billowing into the sky.

OCFA spokesman Tony Bommarito said firefighters initially pulled back because of the intense heat and smoke. "It was too dangerous," he said.

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Working Wardrobes posted a press release on its website:

"Everything has been destroyed, including:

  • Donation Center: Large warehouse filled with racks, bins, and boxes filled with thousands of donations. Including jackets, pants, shirts, blouses, ties, shoes, jewelry and additional accessories, as well as housewares, office and cleaning supplies.

  • Wardrobing Center: filled with quality clothing and accessories for men and women in a department like setting.
  • Career Center: Computer labs where clients worked to research and apply for jobs online, training rooms and IT computer lab. Plus, the VetNet team and program for veterans, SCSEP program for seniors, all client services for women, men, young adults, and all wardrobing services.

  • Corporate Office: Entire operations of Working Wardrobe."

"We are absolutely devastated by this catastrophic loss, the heart of our operations is gone and so is 30 years of history," Working Wardrobes founder and CEO Jerri Rosen said in a statement. "We are grateful and relieved to report that no one was hurt or in the building at the time of the fire. Now our job is to get back on our feet so we can serve our clients very quickly and we aim to do just that with the help of our remarkable community."
The organization will set up temporary headquarters at a Goodwill facility in Santa Ana.

Bommarito says the preliminary estimate is $10 million in damage to the building and a $2 million loss of contents in the building, but that last figure may go up when Working Wardrobes does a full inventory.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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"At this point we’re not ruling out anything," he said. "This is a super challenging fire investigation because of the amount of damage. You have the entire roof laying on everything that burned below. This is very challenging to be able to get in there and start working on that."

Crews will be on site in the next several days. Bommarito said his agency will look at whether it was intentionally set.