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Auburn jewelers bring charred but cherished keepsakes back from 49 Fire ashes

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn jewelers are showing their heart of gold as they help 49 Fire victims recover treasured pieces of their past. Betty McReynolds and her husband, Bill, thought they’d lost pretty much everything when the Aug. 30 fire destroyed their North Auburn home. But Downtown Auburn jeweler Harvey Roper was able to find a way to bring some of Betty’s most prized keepsakes back. The same could be said for Tami Higgs and her daughter, Rachel, whose much-loved crystal collection had been scorched and burned when fire destroyed their home. They brought what they could salvage to Ben Asgharzadeh at The Golden Swann Jewelers and he was able to polish and clean pieces back to the way they were before the fire. And in Old Town Sierra Moon Goldsmiths co-owner John Lynch was there for a woman whose wedding ring had been left at home, charred in the fire and in need of restoration. McReynolds, a Roper’s Jewelers customer since the 1950s, let out a startled sigh of joy when she found that a cherished coin bracelet had been brought back to shiny life. Roper said he probably spent a dozen or more hours working on a cluster of burned jewelry McReynolds had brought him. McReynolds, who has since remarried, lost her first husband at age 50. The Australian coins on the chain were an early gift. “When she unwrapped the first piece there was a giant gasp,” Roper said. “That’s where the thrill is – when you see something pretty much lost restored.” McReynolds said she was ready to throw the bracelet away with other burned jewelry but needed to at least see if something could be done about it. “I was so thrilled when I got the phone call telling me ‘We have a whole bunch of bright, shiny jewelry for you,’” she said. Lynch said gold can survive a fire because it has a high melting point – 1,650 degrees for 14-karat gold. “It’s very resilient,” he said. The Golden Swann, Sierra Moon and Roper’s are helping 49 Fire victims free of charge. “It’s so sad what they had to go through,” Asgharzadeh said, whose own home is near the fire site. Over the past 15 years, Higgs and her daughter had been given a crystal piece every birthday and Christmas from Tami’s father, Dale Louton. Higgs and husband, R.C., were at a wedding when the 49 Fire broke out but Rachel and her infant daughter were at home. They barely escaped the flames with their lives, Tami said. Rachel’s crystal was destroyed but Tami was able to find enough of her collection to bring it in for restoration at the Golden Swann. Asgharzadeh said Tami’s tears of joy were payment enough when he was able to give her the first few cleaned pieces. “They mean a lot to us – especially now,” Higgs said. “Ben has just been wonderful.”