Burned-out family deals with loss and emotions
On Wednesday morning, Rob Darney was awakened by the sound of helicopters. He was unlocking the car in his Kings Canyon driveway when he saw the wildfire.
He didn’t think much of it at first, but his wife, Robin, asked him to stay home a while.
An hour later, a sheriff’s deputy informed them of a temporary evacuation. Forty minutes after that, it was mandatory.
Robin left with six children and a truckload of mementos. Rob stayed behind.
He watched fire engines and a media truck burn over. Then the firefighters had to flee.
“There were 200 firefighters and 18 trucks hauling ass down the mountain. You could feel the panic,” he said.
“It was spitting BBs of fire at me horizontally, and that’s when I knew I had to get out of here.”
The family went to bed in a hotel that night, uncertain of their home’s fate. Robin awoke early the next morning and went to get coffee. It looked safe, so she headed up the canyon. She pulled over halfway up to check on a neighbor .
“I told her I was going to go check on our house,” Robin recalled. “Her eyes filled with tears, she grabbed my arm, and said, ‘Honey, it’s gone.'”
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The Darneys told their story amid the ash-covered ruins on Sunday. The swamp cooler, formerly on the roof, lay split open in the middle of the dinning room. Homemade jam had become sealed jars of charcoal. A pot, now filled with parts of the roof, was still on the stove.
“We find things melted in the yard – little puddles of aluminum – and it’s like, what the heck was that?” Rob Darney said.
What’s strange is how random was the destruction. The house and garage were totally destroyed, and neighbor Bill Burnaugh’s house was destroyed, but his garage between them is unscathed.
Rob Darney’s ’69 Mustang burned, but the two domed barbecue grills behind it still look new. Plastic toys and a swing set are perfectly fine, while everything else is ash.
“It’s like a moonscape,” said Robin. “It burned the face off some of the rocks.”
Ironically, the hardest part for Rob is all the support he’s received.
One of the developers he knows from his work as an architect called after the home burned.
“He called to offer a crew of five guys with hammers to come out and help build. He doesn’t know me from a hole in the ground. I was driving when he called, and I had to pull over because I couldn’t see through all the tears. That’s the hard part about this whole thing: How do you deal with these emotions?”
The Darneys are wiping their eyes. When Robin first saw the house, the loss hit hard, but she’s moving on.
“I came up here, stood in the driveway, and sobbed for half an hour. Then I reached down, grabbed my bootstraps, and pulled them up, and said, ‘Get on with your life; your family needs you.'”
She doesn’t want other people to cry, either.
“Don’t cry for me. Don’t cry for me – I don’t want your tears. I want you to learn from what we lost.”
They plan to rebuild at the site where Rob’s grandparents built the original house in 1961.
Before the fire, they were planning some major yardwork, including pulling out a nectarine tree that hadn’t borne fruit in years. That tree is pretty much all that’s left of the yard.
“I hated that tree,” said Robin. “But I don’t know now. Maybe it’s earned the right to stay.”
Contact Karl Horeis at email@example.com or 881-1219.