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Residents look for possessions they can salvage
Steve Timko

August 27, 2004

Brent Danner ran a garden rake Thursday through the wet ashes and charcoal of what had been the Ramona Road home he and his wife had lived in for 26 years, looking for possessions that could be salvaged.

Danner's Toll Road-area neighbors also used rakes and shovels to sift the blackened rubble that fell inside the cement foundation. Together, they found an "I Love Mom" coffee cup intact, a photograph of his son at Air Force basic training and his daughter's hand prints in a ceramic cast, among other mementos.

Danner lost his home and most of his possessions in Wednesday's Andrew Fire, but had a positive view.

"We're all safe," Danner said. "My wife's safe. I'm safe. My dog's safe.

"There's a lot of people a lot worse off than we are," Danner continued.

People who had their homes destroyed or damaged in the wildfire were back Thursday, assessing the damage and picking up the pieces.

Danner got word of the fire, left work and got home about 2:15 p.m. Wednesday as flames roared toward the Toll Road neighborhood. He said he was inside only about three minutes before a firefighter told him he had to leave. His wife was out of town.

Danner grabbed his strong box with personal documents and his dog, Krystal, a 4-year old Labrador retriever mix.

He and his neighbors retreated. His home and the Connally home next door burned down, but other neighbors only lost items sheds and trailers.

Danner was stumped why the fire burned his house. He had 40 feet of defensible space. His house had asphalt shingles.

"I am a former insurance agent, so I knew what you should do," Danner said.

He's confident he has a good insurance policy. Danner said his advice to other homeowners is to make sure they have good insurance.

"Always make sure your policies are up to date, and sit down and discuss it with your agent at least once a year," he said.

As far as whether he'll rebuild and live in the same spot, Danner said, "I have to ponder that one."

Neighbor Chuck Connally also was at a loss to explain why the flames took his house and Danner's house but not others in the neighborhood. He also had defensible space between his home and the wild land, where the flames had burned. His house burned down, but he still had a bright green patch of grass in the back yard.

"The lot was cleared," Connally said. "There was nothing anyone could have done about this."

The flames burned from Andrew Lane on a hillside behind his home and appeared as if it was going to bypass his neighborhood, he said. Then, the winds shifted and drove the flames right into his home.

"It caught the barn (on fire) and then went from one building to the next," Connally said.

Connally summarized his loss: "Everything I've owned for 53 years is gone." The losses include a family Bible from the 1800s.

Gary Schmidt and Mary Bartell lost the home they share on Neilson Road and also lost several vehicles. More importantly, they were not able to find Xion, one of three family dogs.

Neither Schmidt nor Bartell was home Wednesday when the fire came from the Eastlake Boulevard area. A neighbor let all three dogs out of the home, and Luke and Bear Bear found their way back. But not Xion.

Schmidt returned to their home Thursday morning to look through the rubble while Bartell looked unsuccessfully for the Xion. She arrived at the home shortly before noon but was unable to examine the damage herself, saying it was it was too difficult emotionally.

"It's really a horrifying experience for me," Bartell said. "There's no words to describe it."

Bartell's advice to others who live near open areas is to expect the unexpected.

"I'm just happy Gary wasn't here because he would have stayed to the end," Bartell said.

Couldn't make it home

Schmidt, who owns the Reindeer Lodge on the Mount Rose Highway, heard about the fire while he was there and tried to make it home. Authorities had the direct routes blocked so Schmidt, who was in a four-wheel-drive, tried other routes but found them closed as well.

Schmidt lost many vehicles in the fire - including a late 1940s truck, a 1980 Mercedes-Benz station wagon, and a small bus - along with his personal possessions.

Driving down the Mount Rose Highway, he looked at the location of the smoke and figured it was his home burning.

The home still had the shake roof that was on it when they moved in two years ago, he said. They wanted to change it but hadn't decided what to replace it with, Schmidt said.

The home was built on a hillside that had been dug out and flattened. The sagebrush on the hill was the same height as the shake roof, he said, so it would have been easy for the wind to push the flames from the sagebrush to the shake roof. But fire burned around much of his property, Schmidt said, so it's hard to blame it on the shake roof.

"It think it would have burned without the shake roof," he said. "That wind drove it down that hillside like nothing."

He had put in defensible space around the home and also had a plan to defend it against a wild fire, including putting sprinklers on the roof. But he wasn't there when the fire came.

Spared from the fire were some vehicles, including an old fire engine, below the home, Schmidt said. That area had plenty of defensible space. "It shows how effective that can be," Schmidt said.

He searched the homes for valuables. Firefighters set aside an ammo box full of mercury and silver dimes he started collecting in 1961. He's not sure of their worth now after surviving the fire.

He also found a gold ring - once owned by his father - that had what Schmidt called a perfect four-carat diamond. The heat melted part of the ring into a glob.

"Now, it's a work of art," Schmidt said.

Joe Martin lives a few houses down the road from Schmidt and Bartell and couldn't believe the flames didn't take his home, too.

"All I can say is that we're so fortunate," Martin said.

At one point on Wednesday afternoon, he was at an intersection 80 yards from his home, and he couldn't see it because smoke from the fire was so thick. Flames burned the fence of his back yard and scorched leaves on trees in his yard and his neighbor's, but didn't damage his home. It didn't even burn a shed at his back fence line.

Before he evacuated, Martin said, he was standing in his back yard, and heat from the fire on a hillside several hundred yards away was so intense he could feel it on his face. At one point, he had his garden hose out, spraying down the brush behind his home. But Martin called it useless.

"I think it made you feel good that you were trying to do something," he said.

Copyright (c) Reno Gazette-Journal. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.

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