The Hardmans working through hard times

Family picking up the pieces after home burns
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Almost two decades ago, an Auburn couple hand-built the in which home their four children grew up. A month ago that home – the one they painted and laid brickwork alongside their sons and daughters - burned to the ground. This week, the man who laid down the original footings 18 years ago was struggling with emotion as he ripped out the concrete he helped pour with an excavator. “It’s a very emotional time to go back to the home like we did yesterday and watching what is left there being put in a Dumpster,” homeowner Susie Hardman said Wednesday. Susie and her husband, Steve, were among the residents of 63 homes that were destroyed in the 49 Fire. The blaze ignited at about 2:22 p.m. Aug. 30 on a hot, dry and windy Sunday and torched homes and businesses before firefighters stopped its path. A month later 343-acres of blackened land reminds North Auburn residents of the tragedy that spared many homes but took the countless memories of others. The Hardmans were in some ways a little lucky. Susie Hardman already had boxes of photos and mementos handy because she recently decided to start work on pictures of her four children who are now grown. On the Sunday of the fire, as they watched dark smoke loom overhead, Susie and Steve Hardman, along with their son, daughter-in-law and young grandson, were jarred by a Sheriff’s Office deputy ordering a hasty evacuation over a loudspeaker. Susie Hardman grabbed the three boxes of photos. Her husband grabbed pictures off the walls. Her son quickly snatched his laptop and her daughter-in-law ran out of the house with her baby and wedding album bundled in her arms. As the family drove down the street into a traffic jam, Susie Hardman remembers seeing flames on both sides of the road. Even then, the family never really believed that they wouldn’t return to their home. “It was very hard to watch it go in smoke,” Susie Hardman said. ‘An emotional feat’ It was also hard for Paul Sherwood, owner of Sherwood Construction in Grass Valley, to use an excavator to tear up the debris-filled plot he helped build. Sherwood, who has been friends with the Hardman family for about 30 years, said he hopes it only takes a few days to clear the land. He said it’s difficult to doze over their possessions. “You’ve kind of got to disconnect from it,” Sherwood said. Susie Hardman said the long-time family friend later told her how difficult it was. “It was an emotional feat for him yesterday,” Susie Hardman said. “He said to me, ‘Susie, this is very difficult. I never thought I would rip up the concrete I helped put down.’” Cutting through red tape Like other fire victims trying to recoup what they can, Susie Hardman said the process has been difficult. “There is way more red tape than I ever anticipated,” Susie Hardman said. She added that if there were one piece of advice she’d pass on to others is to make a list or video of their home’s contents. When Susie Hardman first talked to her insurance agent, she was told to make a list of everything “down to the box of toothpicks.” So far she’s documented the items in the first-floor of her home and that includes the seven hours it took to remember everything in her kitchen. “It’s a huge job,” Susie Hardman said. Life turned upside down Susie Hardman said she’s experienced first-hand how the unexpected can happen anytime after losing her home in the sudden fire. “You never know how quickly you’re life will turn upside down,” Susie Hardman said. She recalled that the night before the fire, she and her husband attended Auburn’s Black & White Ball for the first time. While she was there, she ran into the man who helped put up the framework for their then two-story home. “I said, ‘Jess! Guess what? The house is still standing,’” Susie Hardman recalled. “Those were my exact words to him not knowing the very next day by 3:30 it wouldn’t be.” ‘Gracious’ help There has been help – very “gracious” help – along the way, Susie Hardman said. Susie is a secretary at Rock Creek School and her husband is an employee at Rock Creek Mobile Home Park. They are also members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All three groups have helped the family tremendously in terms of emotional and financial support. “Everyone has been so gracious and willing to give what they could give,” Susie Hardman said. She added that it’s a “very humbling experience” to accept the help. “My husband and I have always enjoyed being of service to people and helping people whenever we could,” Susie Hardman said. “It’s very difficult to be on the other end.” Rebuilding their spot in the world The Hardman family plans to rebuild their home even though it won’t be the same experience. The first time around the Auburn couple installed their own electrical work and did most of the painting. Susie and Steve Hardman laid all of the brick and their children helped plant the yard. But the couple wants to draft up house plans soon and one day pick up where they began 18 years ago. “That’s our little spot in the world,” Susie Hardman said. “We could really be very sad about this whole thing but our feeling is at this point it’s time to pick up the pieces and march forward.” Jenifer Gee can be reached at ---------- Where were you when the 49 Fire broke out? Susie and Steve Hardman were driving home from church when they saw the start of the 49 Fire when it was “just a little tiny fire” near the intersection of Highway 49 and Rock Creek Road. Susie Hardman said the couple soon after pulled over on the side of the road to let the fire trucks pass. “There was a gentleman who came running up, pulled off his shirt and was trying to get the fire out with his shirt,” Susie Hardman remembered. “At that point I said to my husband, Steve, ‘Do you think we have anything to worry about?’” She said they watched as the fire spread “very very rapidly” in about five to 10 minutes. “He said, ‘It’s a long way away,’ so we went home,” Susie Hardman said. “We were home about 20 minutes before the sheriff said you have to get out.” ----------