For four years, Josh and Melissa Malpass looked at the vacant Wildcat Ranch two houses down with dreams of one day living within its century-old walls.
The price tag was initially too daunting for the couple to put in an offer.
But when that dropped after two years, they cashed in the opportunity and made the 1920s Wildcat Canyon property, with its surrounding 40-plus acres, their home.
“We just loved the historic aspect, the charm and the land,” Melissa Malpass said.
In August, they moved in, planning to renovate the property to improve its safety, including fireproofing work, she said.
They never got the chance to finish what they started.
The Bond Fire, which erupted Wednesday night, whipped through the home by Thursday afternoon, destroying it.
“That property had endured so many natural disasters – fires, earthquakes, floods,” Melissa Malpass, 38, said Saturday. “A lot of people lost a home, essentially. It’s not just my family, it’s a very beloved part of the canyon.”
‘Hid the tears’
The historic home was one of five structures destroyed by the vegetation fire, which by Saturday morning had consumed 7,375 acres and was 40% contained. Officials and canyon residents say the blaze began at a house on Bond Way.
Melissa and the couple’s 4-year-old son, Killian, were at her parents’ La Mirada home for a sleepover when she got a call from a neighbor Wednesday night that a fire had started near their home. She immediately called her husband.
Josh Malpass, a therapist at O.C. Rolfing, had worked late that night and had made it back to the home, but the power was out, meaning cell service would have been shut off had it not been for a portable generator.
Still awake, he immediately packed important documents, clothing and other items for his wife and son before evacuating.
Less than 24 hours later, while grocery shopping with Killian, Melissa got the call from her husband. Their home and everything in it was lost.
“I pulled my mask up a little higher and hid the tears,” Melissa Malpass said. “There was shock, of course, followed by devastation and disbelief, along with the fact I had to keep my cool because Killian was with me.”
She held out hope that maybe it wasn’t true, but then the videos and photos came in. They showed two stone chimney columns. Everything else had burned.
It wasn’t all awful.
Neighbors told the family their chicken coop and 16 chickens had survived the flames, Malpass said.
Steeped in history
The family of three had gone from a “teeny-tiny” 800-square-foot cabin to a sprawling, albeit aged, four-building property.
They first came to love Wildcat Ranch by taking walks along the property’s trails. The previous owner, who lived in Palm Desert, had planned to hire a security guard to prevent squatters from entering the vacant home, but Melissa Malpass offered to walk the property nightly and keep watch, she said.
Built in the 1920s, Wildcat Ranch has plenty of history. It was a boy’s only hunting club from the 1920s to 1960s and famous musicians would hold parties there in the 1970s, Malpass was told.
Neighbors in Wildcat Canyon were thrilled with the purchase by the Malpass family, noting they understood and respected the history of the structures, Chay Peterson, a longtime resident and community organizer, wrote on a GoFundMe page raising funds to help the family get back on its feet.
And the couple kept the surrounding property open to neighbors, encouraging them to take advantage of the trails anytime they’d like, Malpass said.
“It needed a lot of work, but we were also not in a rush,” Malpass said. “We were never going to demolish it. We were just going to improve it to make it more livable and safe.”
Their ideas included metal roofing and fireproofing the home.
One of the buildings, considered an artist studio, was planned to be Killian’s homeschool classroom, Malpass said.
Plan to rebuild
But the family was more interested in the land surrounding the house.
Josh and Melissa Malpass love the outdoors and are avid runners. They would wander the trails up the hillside behind the home almost every day. The family doesn’t own a TV, Melissa Malpass said.
“We’re minimalists,” she said. “We don’t care so much about material things.”
The worst of the items lost, she said, was Josh’s family photos, which had just been sent down from Oregon as his father downsized his home. Money the couple had spent on renovations was also lost.
Josh Malpass was able to pack a few toys and stuffed animals for Killian, but the couple had yet to tell him what happened.
“We’re trying to keep things normal for him,” Melissa Malpass said. “How do you tell him that his whole life is gone?”
The family has received an outpouring of support in the last two days, including nearly $35,000 through the GoFundMe page.
“The Canyon is resilient and people bend backward to help their neighbors,” Melissa Malpass said. “I truly appreciate that. I just want everyone to know we’re grateful.”
For the time being, the family plans to split time between her parents’ home in La Mirada and an RV on the property, which Josh’s father plans to drive down from Oregon.
Neighbors have also offered to leave their RVs on the lot for the family, Melissa Malpass said.
They will rebuild on the property and they have plans to research opportunities to make their home more green and as resistant to natural disasters as possible, she said.
“Silverado is such a magical little community, we couldn’t imagine leaving,” Melissa Malpass said. “We’re going to figure out what to do to rebuild.”
Source: Orange County Register