Fire changes all for growing family |

Fire changes all for growing family

by F.T. Norton
Kathi Amrhein sits with her son, Nathan, 2. She is six months pregnant, and her Kings Canyon home was destroyed in the Waterfall fire. Brad Horn Nevada Appeal

Kathi and Ron Amrhein planned to live at their home at 4395 Timberline Drive until the children were grown. Once son Nathan, 2, and his sister, due in three months, graduated high school and began their own lives, the Amrheins were going to downsize, Kathi said.

Mother Nature had other plans.

In a one fell swoop, their two-story home in the scenic hillside neighborhood was destroyed by a wildfire that consumed 14 others July 14 and 15. It took more than 2,000 firefighters five days to contain the Waterfall fire to the wilderness at the top of Ash Canyon.

“It’s upsetting,” Kathi Amrhein, 41, said of her loss Tuesday as she left the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Life goes on, and vehicles that were destroyed by the fire must be unregistered, while others must be registered. Kathi’s pediatrics practice must also be maintained, despite the stress of her situation, which has caused her pre-term labor.

“It was everything. That was all of our memories,” she said of her home.

On the morning of July 14, the Amrheins went about their day, Kathi said. The fire seemed far enough away, more than five miles from her neighborhood to Kings Canyon and deep enough into the hillside there, that they didn’t have to worry. Ron stayed home in the morning with Nathan until Kathi left work at noon. She was home only about two hours when the first evacuation order came, she recalled.

Then fire trucks parked in every drive, she said, and friends helped her pack her car. She took pictures off the wall and clothes for a few days for herself and her husband. A friend packed some things for Nathan. Ron grabbed the hard drive to the computer. Kathi remembered some important papers. She forgot her jewelry. She left behind her wedding dress.

That night, they stayed with a friend in town and returned the morning of July 15 to their home, which was intact. Ron went to work, and Kathi was home with Nathan when the second evacuation order came.

She took only her son in her already-packed car and drove out of the neighborhood. She could see the flames were near. Still, “I never expected to not come back,” she said.

The next time she came home, there was none.

“All that was left was an inch to 2 inches high,” she said.

The fire, which Kathi believes was fed by trees in a vacant lot next door and piles of brush left by a prison crew from a clearing operation a few weeks before, incinerated her home. Kathi was able to salvage two china cups and a couple pieces of jewelry, but everything else “disintegrated.”

“I’m angry – angry at whoever started the fire, angry at the Fates,” she explained. “Angry because we wanted the lot next door cleared, but the owners wouldn’t.”

It’s been two weeks since she lost her home, and Kathi said Tuesday she’s just begun to smile again. After staying with friends for two weeks, the Amrheins have found a rental.

The family will rebuild; they really have no choice. But you never have enough fire insurance, Kathi has realized. Where to get the additional money to rebuild what they had is a mystery since, Kathi points out, they have no collateral.

But amid the devastation, Kathi’s eyes still twinkle when you ask about her swollen belly.

And, she admits, the kindness shown to her by strangers and friends alike has been overwhelming.

“I wouldn’t have made it through without everyone’s support.”

Contact F.T. Norton at or 881-1213.