Students find wildfire victim's irreplaceable items

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PALOMINO VALLEY, Nev. (KOLO) A Palomino Valley man who lost his home to a wildfire this summer has just been reunited with items that tell much of the story of his life, items he thought were gone forever.

Two months ago, a wildfire rushed over the mountain, headed straight for Ken McGuire's home.

"When they showed up and told us to leave immediately, we grabbed two pairs of pants, two t-shirts, our wallets, that sort of thing."

But nothing else.

He and his wife returned to find their home gone, burned to the ground, and along with it most of the personal items that make up daily life.

"We got over the crying part, the woe-is-me part and now you sit back and say 'I need this' It's on that shelf. Oh it's not there anymore."

It was a blow, but some of what they had lost was irreplaceable, items tracking a 50-year marriage, jewelry and memorabilia from Ken's long career in law enforcement, badges he had worn in service.

"It's terrible. You just can't describe it. That's 35 years of your life gone in 20 seconds."

That made starting all over all the more daunting, but they've resolved to rebuild. The first step, clearing the property of the debris left by the fire. In itself that was a huge task, but help would arrive from an unexpected source.

Word of the McGuire's loss had reached Spanish Springs High School and its Junior ROTC unit. They often spend weekend hours in public service projects, cleaning up parks, but this mission hit close to home. Ken McGuire's grandson is a JROTC student at Spanish Springs.

"A cadet in our program's grandparents just lost their home," said the unit's commander, Cadet Lt. Col. Jaariro Bonilla. "We've got to go help."

It was also a teaching moment.

"I was excited that we had an opportunity to show our younger cadets it is worthwhile to serve others," said Cadet Major Jesica Wales.

So, last weekend a small army of ROTC students showed up to lend a hand. It was no easy job, but they didn't stop with picking up debris. There were still those badges and other irreplaceable items to be found and the students were determined to find them.

"We dug all the way down to the foundations, the bottom of the home. We dug all around. We just had that hope," said Bonilla.

As they literally sifted through the ashes of McGuire's life, one-by-one those irreplaceable items emerged. It was a special moment.

"Oh, tears, tears of joy. It was just fantastic," says McGuire. The students say they teared up too.

The badges were somewhat worse for the wear.

"They were damaged," says Wales, "but the shape and everything was still there."

It turns out that hardly mattered. McGuire says he doesn't care if they can be restored. If they can't, he says, he'll mount them as they are in window boxes and treasure them all the more.

"I think they mean more to me now, finding them through this than before."