North County woman raises money for Thomas Fire victims

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ENCINITAS, Calif. — A North County woman deeply impacted by the Thomas Fire is turning her pain into action.

“I looked outside and I just couldn’t believe the sky. The sun was neon pink and it was raining ash. It’s like an apocalypse. It was a disaster zone,” said Lauren Duke.

Duke splits her time between her yoga studio in Leucadia and a home in the art colony of Ojai, where the fire continued to rage Friday.

Although Duke’s home was spared, gripping pictures taken by her husband tell a different story for many of her neighbors.

“It doesn’t make sense until it’s you and you’re there. It’s totally different than seeing it on the screen,” Duke said. “Immediately when it’s your town you’re like, ‘How can I help?’ there’s not even a why.”

In hopes of raising $10,000 for two single mothers who lost everything in the blaze and don’t have homeowner’s insurance, Duke held a holiday party at her studio Friday night. She hopes her studio can take on a whole new meaning: a gathering of support and hope for the community.

One of the women, Betty Nguyen, lost her home, her car and her art studio. Duke loaned Nguyen her car while she gets back on her feet.

“She had to take her business down because it would bleed money with no tourists coming,” Duke said. “I met her at the store as she was tearing the racks down off the wall. She was in the process of making a documentary about the land and lost all the film, her car and home in the fire.”

Stacey Hevener Moss, a permaculture farmer who also makes essential oils, lost her business in the fire.

“We’re all in this together and this is something that we didn’t have any control over but we have control over how we react to it,” said Duke’s friend Nick Borrelli.

Duke will also host a maker’s fair Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. at 412 N. Coast Hwy. 101 in Encinitas. A portion of the proceeds will go to victims of the fire.

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