Carole Ryan lost her Arizona home and most of her pets after a wildfire demolished her neighborhood earlier this summer, but from the debris, she uncovered her most cherished possession.
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While the 65-year-old Glen Isla native was attending her niece’s wedding in Prague, a wild fire was quickly spreading through her small neighborhood. “I was checking the news on my iPhone the day after the wedding when a story about 19 firefighters dying in a fire caught my eye,” Ryan told Yahoo Shine.
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“When I realized the fire had destroyed my small town, all I could hope was that my daughter, who lives with me, was alright.”
After reaching her children, Julia, 34, and Mark, 33, Ryan boarded a plane and crossed her fingers that her home was intact and 13 pets were alive and safe.
“My son picked me up from the airport and when we got my luggage from baggage claim, I said, ‘I wonder if this suitcase is all I have left,’” said Ryan, who lost her home at the end of June and whose story made local headlines this week. “My son looked at me and said, ‘Mom, it is.’”
Unfortunately, Ryan’s home had burned completely to the ground and many of her pets—including six parakeets, several lizards, a cockatiel bird and her five babies, four turtles, a beard dragon lizard, a salamander, and two cats—didn’t survive. “Thankfully, my daughter managed to make it out with our two dogs and one cat,” said Ryan.
A week later, Ryan was permitted to return to the ruins of the home she had just finished paying off. Armed with the last remaining sifter from the American Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter, she dug through what was left of the home she had raised her family in. “Clothes, furniture, jewelry, nothing was there,” she said. “I did manage to find a few mangled coins from my collection, but not much else.”
That included Ryan’s most prized possession: Her late mother Julia’s diamond wedding ring that Ryan had inherited after her death from cancer in 1962. Ryan had kept it in one of her fire safe boxes, but the flames were so hot, that the boxes were destroyed.
However, after digging six inches in the debris, Ryan stuck gold. “I found my mother’s ring and just screamed,” she said. “The box was gone but the ring was there. I feel that my mother is watching over me from above.”
Although she lost her home, beloved pets, and all her belongings, Ryan is remarkably upbeat. “I was a collector and frankly, I owned too much stuff,” she said. “I mourn the loss of my animals and it’s scary to think of starting all over again at my age, but I have my family and my mother’s ring. I can replace the rest.” (She’s now living in a rented home paid for her insurance company).
And with that loss comes a sense of freedom. “In a way, the fire set me free to start all over again,” she said. “I plan to volunteer with the Red Cross when I get back on my feet and I have a new appreciation for life.”
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