At first, Jean Timmons wanted to move as far away from the foothills as she could after losing her home in the Waldo Canyon fire nearly a year ago. But she later changed her mind, and with her husband, Barry, hired a contractor to rebuild their Mountain Shadows home.
The couple's decision on whether to rebuild is just one of many they had to make in the past year - decisions that more than 500 homeowners who lost their houses in the Black Forest fire will likely have to make in the coming months and beyond.
The Timmonses, who moved into a new home on the same lot last month, said they wanted to tell their story to help Black Forest fire victims navigate the often complex rebuilding and insurance process.
"It is something we would not want to do again," said Barry Timmons. "These are things that the people in Black Forest will have to do. They are standing at this precipice and thinking, "What do I do?' We made it; so can you."
The couple was evacuated early during the Waldo Canyon fire, just hours after their daughter and granddaughter removed possessions that had been stored in the Timmonses' garage. They took their computer and their wedding album, which would later help them identify the pattern of a sterling silver set they received as a wedding gift 49 years earlier. They were allowed to return briefly the morning before the fire destroyed their home, but Jean Timmons said she wished she had taken more possessions with her. Instead, she watered her flowers.
"Losing your home just isn't in your mind as something that could actually happen. I didn't have a list of things I wanted to take - no one does. You just don't think straight at that time," Jean Timmons said. "After the fire, we sifted through the ashes and found a few pieces of pottery and that was it."
Their first piece of advice: Find what you can on your property. Those few remnants proved to be critical to identifying some of the antiques the couple owned.
Second: Inventory your possessions as soon as possible.
"It was really hard to document our possessions, but you have to force yourself to do it right away, even if you don't want to, because It makes you think about what you lost," Jean Timmons said. "You have to mentally walk through the house room-by-room, thinking about the pictures on the wall and the furniture in each room. I created an Excel spreadsheet that matched State Farm's claim form - it was 104 pages long. You have to write a description of each item, when and where you purchased it, the replacement cost."
Then, go online. Jean Timmons spent several hours each day searching the Internet for antiques similar to the ones she lost, matching them to items on the auction site eBay to determine a value. She sent e-mail messages to antique dealers who helped her establish values for one-of-a-kind items, and took photos of all the remnants recovered from the ashes of their home.
Finally, they say, don't be surprised if you're overwhelmed as you rebuild, redecorate - even restock.
"When you are building a home, you usually are excited about making the decorating choices, but this time it was emotionally draining because you have to do it, and it wasn't your choice to do it at that time," she said. "Sometimes I just had to walk out of the store because it was overwhelming. Finally I decided to break the shopping into individual rooms."
The couple is still in the midst of settling their claim for possessions, but Barry Timmons said they hope to complete that process later this month. The process has been complex, but not contentious, he added.
"The insurance process is new to almost everyone, but it is the same for everyone. You need to understand that their are limits in each area and cooperate with your insurer to get your life back," Jean Timmons said.
"Attitude is very important. There are people who go into it thinking it will be a battle. You have to go into it with a cooperative frame of mind. You have to be positive," Barry Timmons said.
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