Chrissy Rasmussen saw a dark plume of smoke rising into the sky Tuesday and knew her home was gone.
Rasmussen and her family were the first to lose their home in the destructive Rockport 5 Fire, which began just before 2 p.m. with a lightning strike. But as the afternoon began, Rasmussen was just an ordinary mom driving her daughter to dance class. During a conversation Saturday, Rasmussen said she and 8-year-old Chloe left for the class in nearby Coalville about 1 p.m. Rasmussen’s 13-year-old son Caymen stayed behind at the family’s Rockport Ranches home.
Rasmussen was still in Coalville when her phone began lighting up with warnings about a fire near her home. Rasmussen left Chloe with a friend and raced back to her Wanship-area neighborhood.
Rasmussen made it back before Summit County sheriff’s deputies completely shut down the area. She parked at the base of the mountain, unable to get all the way to her house, and watched as the flames moved up the hill.
"It was surreal," she recalled. "Watching the smoke billow."
All the while, Rasmussen was calling and texting Caymen. She soon discovered that a neighbor came by and rescued Caymen as he was preparing to ride his motorcycle out of the burning neighborhood. The neighbor also picked up the Rasmussen family dog, Snickers, and mother and son later reunited at the nearby Rafter B gas station.
But before Rasmussen left the fire zone, she said the smoke changed.
"I could tell when the homes went," she recalled. "There’s a big billow."
Rasmussen couldn’t see her house from the road, but she could tell it was coming from the area of her home. Later, while watching TV news with her husband, her fears were confirmed: video footage showed the home ablaze.
"They didn’t even have a chance to respond to our house," she said.
When the house burned, the family lost everything. Chloe spent Tuesday night crying because all of her toys were gone. Caymen’s motorcycle, which he had saved up for and purchased just a month ago, was destroyed.
Rasmussen said the family also lost two vehicles, one of which had a fender that melted, dripped onto the ground in a molten pool and finally hardened when temperatures dropped. A family friend later had the piece of metal in his truck, and it was unidentifiable as an auto part.
Oddly, Rasmussen said, her six chickens and the coop she built survived. The coop was surrounded by a new vinyl fence that didn’t melt, even though the weeds inside were wilted from the heat. Saturday, the chickens were in a nearby animal shelter, and Rasmussen called them her "six miracles."
Still, the family remains homeless, staying with friends and family. Rasmussen said she has her "fingers crossed" that insurance will cover the damage, though she sounded much less certain than many of her neighbors when asked about their insurance policies.
She also said the site where her home stood is utterly devastated. Late in the week, she and her husband made escorted visits to the now-empty lot, which she described as "like a war zone."
"There’s just nothing," she said slowly. "Even the foundation can’t be salvaged. It’s desolate."
In the days following the fire’s outbreak, the community rallied around the family. A Little League fundraiser was changed to benefit them, with dozens of people lining up to buy burgers and donate money. Saturday, the Rafter B — where Rasmussen works as a cook — held a benefit barbecue. Rasmussen called the community response amazing and unexpected, and said that if anything positive came from the fire, it was the rekindled bonds forming in her community. She added that the family will eventually recover.
"We’re fighters," she said.
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