For five nights, Melissa Grady refused to sleep.
She told me this on a recent afternoon, rubbing her eyes with blackened hands, while trying to ignore the burned husk of twisted metal that barely resembled the RV she had been sharing with her boyfriend, Woody Akiedis.
No one knows for sure how it started, but over Presidents Day weekend, a fire engulfed their metal home, melting its tires to the pavement and sending a plume of dark smoke billowing over the Ballona Wetlands, Playa Vista and Playa del Rey.
Grady, who had been asleep, saw the flames and dashed outside in panic. Akiedis did too. But then, for some reason, he went back in. Grady tried to chase him down, getting close enough to spot his ankle. But the heat was too much. Others who had run over from their own RVs couldn’t get to him either.
Eventually, firefighters found the body of Akiedis, charred and lifeless next to his prized, if now destroyed, collection of Hot Wheels toy cars. He was 60.
What happened to Akiedis is just one of many terrible incidents to befall this encampment on Jefferson Boulevard. It’s not far from my apartment, and since the start of the pandemic, I’ve watched the number of RVs — and the number of desperate people living in them — grow and shrink, and grow and shrink again.
Erika D. Smith