Homeowner, neighbors sift through charred remains
STEAMBOAT – Brent Danner picked up a blackened silver dollar from his destroyed coin collection and rubbed off some soot. He gingerly placed it on the cement foundation wall next to his daughter’s tattered baby shoes.
He steadily sifted through the black rubble and ash that used to be his family’s home on Ramona Street, looking for anything that might remind him of the 26 years he and his family had spent there.
He couldn’t find any of the medals he was awarded during his days in the Air Force.
“My uniform’s gone, too,” he said looking up with red eyes.
He said he was holding up OK, but “I lost it when I drove up here this morning. I had to get out of the car and jog up and down the block a few times before I could start going through anything.”
Danner, a man his friends and neighbors call “Mr. America” for his service in the Air Force, his patriotism and his easy-going nature, was grateful to have their help sorting singed silverware, photographs and sentimental knick-knacks from under a foot of ashes in his home’s foundation.
“We did find an ‘I love you Mom’ coffee cup my daughter gave my wife,” Danner said with a slight smile, “and a ceramic mold of my daughter’s hand when she was in preschool.”
Danner’s wife, Ada, was in Portland visiting their daughter, a first-grade teacher, when the Andrew fire broke out in Pleasant Valley on Wednesday afternoon.
The fire, which is 75 percent contained, burned 2,693 acres and destroyed six homes.
Danner was at work at the airport as a security officer for the Transportation Security Administration when he saw smoke on the horizon and heard reports on a police scanner that the fire had started close to his home.
As soon as he arrived, he could see the fire coming down the hill behind his house. His neighbors were busy gathering animals and loved ones. Danner ushered his dog into his car and went back into his house for the strong box he kept in his exercise room.
Neighbor Melody Caufield, 15, ran over to help, lugging the 25-pound box to Danner’s car while Danner grabbed tax returns, the deed to the house, his life insurance policy and credit card bills.
“The firefighters were yelling ‘You have to leave now’,” Melody said. “I was worried because Mr. Danner wouldn’t leave at first, so I kept saying ‘We have to leave, Mr. Danner.”
Danner said he’s not sure if he will rebuild in the same spot. He said he and his wife will decide together when she returns from Portland.
For now, he’s staying with friends in Sun Valley.
One of his neighbors, grinning, rushed over and triumphantly waved his two small treasures at Danner.
“Oh, cool!” Danner said. “My son’s baby shoes!”
Danners took them from his friend and placed them on the wall next to his son’s Boy Scout pocket knife.
He paused, looked down so the brim of his baseball hat covered his expression. He didn’t look up again for a long time.