Auburn Fire: Stories of Optimism as Owners Start to Rebuild

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(Auburn, CA)
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
It’s not every day the owner of a Harley Davidson shop gives her customers the OK to bulldoze through her showroom wall. But then again, it’s not every day a wildfire is bearing down on your property with almost no time to spare. And so it was that on Sunday afternoon, Emma Lujan said, go ahead…
Lujan: “Two of our friends and four of our customers crashed through the building with a forklift with the building on fire – and got out a 1936 Knucklehead, a 1956 Panhead with sidecar and 18 other motorcycles as the building was burning! And they’re safe – everybody’s safe, and nobody’s hurt.”
The Harleys are now in storage – yes, the customers gave them all back. As for Lujan’s showroom, just off Highway 49?  In minutes, it collapsed into a pile of melted, twisted sheet metal and charred telephone poles. 
Lujan: “We lost a building – it’s just a building. It’s just a building! We’re very fortunate.”
By Tuesday, Lujan and her husband had already started to think about reopening their service shop, which is mostly undamaged.  The insurance company was on site, along with a company that specializes in restoring fire-damaged property.  And Lujan seemed relentlessly upbeat.
Lujan: “We’re just gonna get it cleaned up and see how long it takes to get it built back up – see what our options are.”
She’ll either rebuild the showroom, or buy another property and move it there. And she’s grateful for people stopping by with food and water, offering to help.
Lujan: “We all stick together. We help everybody where we can. Everybody’s here to help us.”
It was a similar story just up the road from Lujan’s shop, at a house burned beyond repair.
Meinhart: “The foundation is no good, so it’s going to have to be leveled. So it’ll just start from ground-up.”
That’s Brenda Meinhart, who’s lived at this house on and off, but right now, is renting it out. She’s anxious, but looking on the bright side.
Meinhart: “Well, I know we’re gonna rebuild something. I mean, it isn’t like – yes, you lost something, but we’re gonna gain something. The house was built in 1965. We’re gonna build a new house. Lot of difference.”
Neither Meinhart nor Lujan lost their homes in the fire. But what about someone who did? Someone who now has to put their life back together from scratch?
Jack Kenny: “We’re glad that we’re okay and happy, and it’s just a matter of rebuilding.”
Retired veteran Jack Kenny and his adult daughter Dawn lost their home in the Northpark subdivision. They were stopping by a one-stop center for local and state assistance Tuesday. They needed a demolition permit for their home, and new copies of documents like birth certificates.
Dawn Kenny: “You gotta let it go. Cause I keep remembering things – oh, this, I had that – it’s gone, you gotta let it go.”
Jack Kenny: “We’re alive, and we just start life over again.”
What makes them able to feel this way, they say, is all the phone calls they’ve been getting offering help.
Jack Kenny: “Friends come out of the woodwork, and I really appreciated that. Everybody said, we’ve got some clothes, money, everything.”
Dawn Kenny: “We probably have more stuff now than when we started with, before the house burnt down.”
Jack Kenny: “I’m overwhelmed with how people are treating us.”
And with that, Jack Kenny stepped outside – to take another phone call.