The tires on Kelvin Kaercher's 1982 Ford pickup melted, leaving bare rims. The aluminum transmission housing pooled in the heat of the Black Forest fire.

Almost everything but the truck's steel frame melted in what became the state's most destructive blaze.

Even the vehicle identification numbers.

A month after the Black Forest fire destroyed 486 houses, a challenge facing homeowners trying to clean up from the blaze is simply hauling away the myriad of scorched wrecks left behind.

The process is made more difficult when residents can't prove they own the vehicle because the VIN number melted or the title is ash.

The problem is compounded for some homeowners who stored old, uninsured vehicles in barns that burned to the ground. Kaercher, whose house on Wildoak Drive was destroyed, lost five vehicles - including an uninsured 1967 Plymouth GTX under restoration.

"It's quite the process," said Jake Boone, owner of Always Auto Salvage.

Insurance companies have begun hauling away cars that were under each company's respective plan, often taking them to a Littleton auction yard, where they are crushed.

Uninsured vehicles have been targeted for scrap metal, often by companies that have offered to take those cars for free, or at steep discounts. Some have been more willing to take unidentified cars than others.

Employees of Western Scrap Yard denied two vehicles due to a lack of identification, said Yvonne Medina, an office manager. Though serial numbers melted from dashboards and transmission cases, employees were still able to find numbers imprinted on the frames of most other vehicles, she said.

Taylor Gray, customer service leader of U Pull and Pay, has been more receptive. He's been paying between $75 and $100 for each vehicle, which is about as much as it takes to tow and crush it.

"We're not being too concerned about people being able to verify their ownership or anything like that," Gray said. "... I can obviously tell it was out of the fire."

Kaercher turned to Patriot Towing, which has offered free towing to anyone needing help removing their vehicles. He watched in silence as Clint Scruggs loaded his Ford pickup onto the flatbed truck - just thankful he didn't have to provide a title, which burned in the blaze.

A month ago, he fled his house and sought safety from the flames in a neighbor's landscaping pool - a moment of terror that ended when El Paso County sheriff's deputies drove him to safety.

On Tuesday, while standing on the chunks of concrete that once formed the foundation of his house, he simply nodded his head.

"One down."


Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

Facebook Jakob Rodgers