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49 Fire: Emotional loss, financial burden

Resident says community aided during need
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Not all Auburn residents were protected by insurance when they lost everything in last year’s 49 Fire. Brenda Hurley lived in a rented house on Cedar Mist Lane and lost almost everything she had to the fire, including photographs of her children growing up, which were precious possessions. “To be honest, the things that I would have insurance for … the renter’s insurance would have helped me financially with the things I have had to replace, but the things that meant the most, there is no replacing those,” Hurley said. “(Photographs) are the memories. You can’t get those back again.” Hurley said she was shopping in Roseville for school necessities for her children when she found out about the fire. “I wasn’t actually home at the time,” Hurley said. “I got a phone call from my son and he was telling me there was smoke and fire, and it was really close to the fence, and I thought he was kidding. He said, ‘No, no, this is really happening.’ He was asking me, ‘Is there anything you need me to take out?’ And I said, ‘No, you just get out.’” Hurley’s son, now 17 years old, and daughter, now 15 years old, got out of the house safely with a computer tower and some clothes. Everything else was destroyed. “They weren’t harmed – that was the biggest blessing,” Hurley said. The community was very generous with donations after the fire, and her religious faith kept her strong, Hurley said. “I felt blessed by the protection I had with my faith, with my church,” she said. “My faith has been strengthened, because I just had to put one foot in front of the other.” She received everything from bedding to Christmas ornaments from concerned residents, Hurley said. Hurley said she also got a couch from the Salvation Army. Hurley said she received some financial aid from the Auburn Disaster Relief Fund, which she used for her daughter. “With that money they gave me, I bought my daughter … her bedroom furniture,” she said. “It was nice to have something brand new for her.” Bruce Cosgrove, chief executive officer of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, said the relief fund was set up in conjunction with Community 1st Bank, because so many people wanted to donate directly to victims of the 49 Fire. “It was remarkable how the community rallied – the number of clubs, organizations and citizens in the community who just wanted to help any way they could,” Cosgrove said. Cosgrove said the Salvation Army and a number of representatives from local churches aided the city in interviewing fire victims and distributing the money from the fund two months after the fire happened. Today, there is still $2,500 in the account, ready in case another disaster should occur. An advisory board has also been set up so the fund can be of more immediate assistance, Cosgrove said. Ralph Smith, an Auburn State Farm Insurance agent, said having renter’s insurance could help save someone from a huge burden. “(It’s there to) protect them from financial devastation,” Smith said. “It’s to help them start again. I think the biggest challenge people don’t understand is how inexpensive renter’s insurance is, 10 bucks a month. It’s important to help people recover from the unexpected.” Smith said the issue with renter’s insurance is that it’s not required, so people can opt not to purchase it. “When I talk to landlords I usually tell them to require renter’s insurance,” Smith said. “I could tell you that this year I’ve written more renter’s policies than I had by last year at this point. (The fire) increased the awareness, but I still think there are a lot of people out there who don’t have (insurance).” Smith said the day of the fire he had insurance drafts ready for his clients, and the coverage was immediate. Although insurance helped financially, it didn’t relieve the tragedy that occurred, Smith said. “It’s still really hard,” he said. “It’s very emotionally draining. Lots of your heirlooms are probably the most difficult (to lose). No amount of money can replace that emotional (loss).” Hurley said she plans to keep a renter’s insurance policy now, but she also thinks it’s best to put irreplaceable items, like film negatives, in a safety deposit box. Before the fire, renter’s insurance didn’t seem like a necessity, Hurley said. “I made a choice,” she said. “In your budget you have so many dollars. You don’t think it’s actually going to happen to you.” Hurley said everything after the fire worked out in a positive way. She’s still renting a home in Auburn, but not in the same neighborhood, and she’s working as a legal assistant in Roseville. “I wanted to stay in Auburn,” she said. “I like Auburn.” Hurley said she is thankful to the community for all its support. She’s learned to live a much simpler life with the knowledge of what’s truly important, because trying to replenish everything she lost was getting too stressful. “I got to the point where I had to just start laughing or I’d go crazy,” she said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com