by Alissa Marchat/web editor
It’s been a devastating month for many California residents. Fires in both Northern and Southern California have claimed dozens of lives and thousands of buildings, among them the home of Smart & Final EVP of Operations Scott Drew and his wife Kelly.
Scott’s name is likely a familiar one to many in the industry. He is part of the leadership team for 306 Smart & Final locations in the western U.S., including the Smart & Final and Cash & Carry teams, and carries responsibility for store operations, real estate, construction, loss prevention and Mexico operations.
The Drews moved to Anaheim from Villa Park four years ago and only recently finished remodeling their home.
“We remodeled every room in this house,” Scott told The Shelby Report’s VP–West Bob Reeves during a recent tour of the property. “Kelly put in her dream refrigerator…everything she wanted in the kitchen.”
They had turned their backyard into a retreat with a pool, a fire pit, built-in barbecues—you name it.
“It was our dream backyard,” Scott said. “When you’ve remodeled inside and out, in a three-year span, you really do put your heart and soul into it…We called it ‘Hotel California.’”
The brush fire that raged through Orange County on Oct. 9, destroying dozens of homes, reduced the Drews’ home to rubble in less than an hour. While they have been deeply devastated by their loss, the Drews are counting their blessings, and the support they have received from the grocery retailing industry—and from utter strangers—has been incredible, Kelly told The Shelby Report.
“It’s definitely restored our faith in humanity,” she said.
An outpouring of support
The first act of kindness came the day after the fire, as the Drews were sitting and grieving in front of what was left of their home. A woman came walking up the street, introduced herself as a member of a local church and asked if there was anything she could do to help.
“Kelly jokingly said, ‘well, my husband likes cookies,’” Scott said. “We left, ran some errands, came back and there’s a package up there. They had gone to Panera and brought enough cookies, muffins, sweets and brownies for 40 people. With a nice, handwritten note and a gift card for $60 to some beauty place for Kelly. A total stranger.”
Others who had lost their homes in past fires quickly reached out to the Drews to share their experiences and offer advice.
“Our neighbors whose house burnt down had a friend of a friend that went through the Yorba Linda fire, and they invited us to dinner at their house,” Scott said. “They had invited eight couples here that lost their homes. They fed us a home-cooked meal, adult beverages, treated us like family.
“They had three families there that had lost homes in the Yorba Linda fire. And all they wanted to do was help us, comfort us, walk us through their life experience and say it’s going to be okay. ‘Here’s what to expect. Here’s what we went through. Here’s what your insurance company is going to say and do. Here’s what you need to do with contractors.’ And it was just tips for getting through this tragic time. They weren’t selling anything. They didn’t want anything. They just felt compelled that they went through a tragedy, people helped them, and they wanted to pay it forward.”
At the end of the evening, the hosts gave their guests handouts—dos and don’ts, next steps, lists of calls that needed to be made—as well as care packages full of cosmetics for all the women.
“It was so incredible,” Kelly said. “I’m a cynic. And I thought, ‘oh, gosh, here we go. They’re going to try to sell us insurance.’ But they didn’t. They just wanted to surround us with love…They just sat patiently, and so many things fell into place that night. Scott asked questions for an hour. He’s such a businessman, he’s already thinking what next, what next.”
The outreach the Drews have received from the industry has been absolutely overwhelming. Dozens of people have offered their homes and even their clothes to the couple.
“I had probably—without exaggeration—50 different offers, minimum, from people in the industry,” Scott said. “‘Come stay with me. Bring your dogs.’ Dave (Hirz, president and CEO of Smart & Final) and Julie—‘here’s the keys to the beach house.’ Paul Christianson (husband of Carole Christianson, COO of the Western Association of Food Chains)—‘you’re a big guy, I’m a big guy, come get some of my clothes.’ I have hundreds of emails, hundreds of people saying ‘how can I help?’ I’ve made a concerted effort to respond to every one.”
Thankful for blessings big…
As terrible an ordeal as losing their house has been, the Drews are thankful for what they didn’t lose—including their dogs and each other.
The Drews’ college-aged daughter was home, visiting with a friend, during their fall break, and Kelly had dropped them off for a day trip to Disneyland the morning of the fire.
“Kelly was contemplating going to Disneyland with them, and had she, we wouldn’t have dogs,” Scott said. “They wouldn’t be here today.”
In fact, Kelly was in just the right places at just the right times leading up to the fire to be able to save both herself and the dogs.
Local authorities hadn’t anticipated the blaze moving as quickly and as far as it did, and the Drews weren’t particularly worried at the start of the day. Kelly even reassured her daughter and the friend when they called her, concerned about the smoke they could see from the park.
“I told them it’s okay. It’s not near us,” Kelly said. “Within an hour, our house was on fire.”
Despite her assurances, something made Kelly call Scott not long before their house would catch fire.
“The last canyon fire, there was a lot of smoke, but I never called him. And I honestly do not know why I picked up the phone and called him this time,” she said. “But I took the dogs out to play, and it was very smoky at about 9:30. So I turned on the news, and they said it’s in Anaheim Hills, west of the freeway. And I waited about an hour and then I started seeing a lot of smoke. And then I called him. And strangely enough, he picked up the phone, which he never does when he’s in meetings. But he said he just felt something.”
“It was about 11. Kelly called and said ‘boy, it’s really windy. There’s a fire. It’s pretty smoky,’” Scott said. “I said, is it close? And she said, I don’t think so, but it’s really dark. Twenty minutes pass. She calls back and says it’s really windy. I said, which way is the wind blowing? She said towards our house. And I just had a feeling in my gut, and I went to my boss, Dave, and showed him a picture that Kelly sent to me, and I said, ‘Dave, I’m going home.’”
A few minutes into his drive home, Kelly was on the phone with Scott again, standing barefoot, looking out the back door, when she saw embers blowing up and over the hill their house stood on.
“Bloodcurdling screams. Like I’ve never heard her before. Just piercing,” Scott said. “And I’m like, ‘Kelly, get out.’ I can hear the alarms going. And I’m like, ‘honey, get out of the house. Get the dogs, get out of the house.’ And thank God, she got out.”
“It’s so strange that I was looking out our back door and talking to him instead of sitting in the office or taking a shower,” Kelly said. “I just didn’t think anything was going to happen. And I told him flat out, ‘honey, we’re like a thousand houses away.’ There’s a lot of houses from that fire to us…I’m looking out the window and I see red embers. I ran to the master bedroom to grab shoes, and I saw flames come in the doggy door.”
The wind that made the fire spread so far and so quickly was strong enough to blow open the Drews’ dog door, blowing those embers in with it. And in no time at all, the bedroom was burning. Kelly grabbed their youngest dog, Paris, by the collar and ran to the car. Then Kelly went back in for the second dog, who was hiding.
“Her name is Hope—we got her at the City of Hope Harvest Ball six years ago,” Kelly said. “I’m pulling her by the collar and her collar slips off, and she goes one way and I fall the other way. I grabbed her tail and just pulled her. By that time, the house is absolutely filled with smoke. The master was on fire. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe. I grab her and run and I was just crying. You just get so scared. It’s so fast.”
…And blessings small
Kelly and the dogs went to a Smart & Final parking lot to wait while Scott drove to the house to see it for himself.
“I had to park two and a half miles down the road and walk up because they wouldn’t let me up,” Scott said. “So in these work clothes, uphill, I walked up only to see my house on fire.”
There were already fire trucks, and even a helicopter, at the house, trying to put it out when Scott arrived.
“These firemen worked diligently to try to put it out,” he said.
One of those firefighters approached Scott and told him they had about five minutes before the roof would collapse. He asked Scott to name the most important thing they had in that house, and said he would go in and get it.
“What a question. What do you pick?” he said. “I told him my daughter is visiting from college with her girlfriend and the most important thing you can get for me right now are those two suitcases. Because it holds their laptops, their clothes and their personal belongings. He’s in there for about 15 minutes. And he comes out like a champion, and the two suitcases are right there. He got them.”
One of the items missing from the suitcases was a blanket the friend’s grandmother had made for her at birth, and she was devastated to have lost it.
“She carries it around with her wherever she goes, sleeps with it every night,” Scott said. “She is 21. So this is a 21-year-old blanket that looks like a rag. But it’s wildly important to her and her family. It’s very sentimental.”
Days later, the Drews asked exactly where the blanket had been left—under a pillow on a bed by a window.
“We busted out the window, climbed through the window,” Scott said. “Kelly went in there, and stuck her hand through the soot, under that pillow. And the first reach—pulled this thing out, fully intact.”
They were able to return the blanket, and Scott says the tears that rolled down the girl’s face were priceless.
As the Drews begin putting their lives back together, Scott says it’s suddenly the little things that have become so important.
“I didn’t have a phone charger. A toothbrush. I spent two days in the same clothes,” he said. “You just take a lot of things for granted that you need to function day in and day out.”
But the Drews have each other—and their pups, as Scott affectionately calls them—and that’s what matters most.
“We can rebuild,” Scott said. “And we will.”