When fire comes, the notion of value changes

By: JESSE PAUL jesse.paul@gazette.com
June 14, 2013 Updated: June 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm

The things they carried were not largely determined by necessity.

Some of the things weren't carried at all. They were thrown, pushed, lugged and hurried into waiting vehicles as evacuees fled raging wildfires this week. The couple who died in the Black Forest fire died retrieving the things they loved.

Found in a parked car that was stuffed with their belongings, the only known victims had returned home but never made it out of their garage.

"You figure out what really means something," said Beth Theler, 56, who asked a neighbor to gather specifics from her family's Black Forest home because she was out of town when the fire broke out. "Some things really mean a lot."

There were the usual items - files, computers, a few photo albums scattered about the house - but then there was the silk-embroidered picture of a fox that the Thelers had purchased on a trip to China. She made sure that made it out of the house, too.

The Thelers' family heriloom, an antique gun owned by Thomas McKean, an ancestor who signed the Declaration of Independence, was left behind. Now evacuated and waiting anxiously to hear about the status of their home, the Thelers were "kicking themselves" for leaving the gun, which they planned to one day give to their son.

Bill Agee, 70, already knew which guns he was going to grab when the Royal Gorge fire came roaring over the mountains west of Ca?n City. Along with his expensive firearms, Agee also toted a book of photos spanning from his childhood through multiple tours in the Vietnam War.

"It's kind of neat for my kids to see that," he said. "I didn't get married until I was 33. My kids wouldn't know anything about me without that scrapbook."

Similar to the characters in Tim O'Brien's famous essay, "The Things They Carried," evacuees took the things they thought most represented themselves; things they wanted more than needed.

When 66-year-old Carolyn Seluig's Black Forest home wound up on the mandatory evacuation list, her sons came speeding home to help pack the house because her husband was away.

"They said to me, 'We're going to stay after you leave, so the sooner you go, we go,' " said Seluig, whose home was still standing as of Friday. "They went around to each room and took one thing for each family member."

File cabinets for family records, ballet slippers for Seluig's daughter and Christmas ornaments for the memories.

"You can replace furniture and houses," she said, "but not these things."

Contact Jesse Paul 636-0253 Twitter: @JesseAPaul

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