Mudslides compound problems after fire claimed dream home |

Mudslides compound problems after fire claimed dream home

Ralph and Renae Besler spent four years building their dream house up Mitchell Creek, doing almost all of the work themselves. But less than a year after they finally moved in, the Coal Seam Fire roared up the narrow valley and burned their prized hideaway to the ground.They took precautions for wildfire during construction, clearing trees from near the house, siding the house with rock on the bottom floor and installing a metal roof. Even as they escaped the fire, driving through flames down the Mitchell Creek Road, Ralph wasn’t convinced the house would burn.But when the smoke cleared, the hand-built, three-level, 1,800-square-foot house had burned down. The Beslers lost everything except the motor home and the passenger car that they drove out the day of the fire: antique furniture, paintings by Renae’s mother, hand tools collected by her stepfather, a gun collection, a coin collection, jewelry, a pickup truck, and a lifetime of mementos.In the days after the fire, Ralph, 68, and Renae, 66, dug through the ashes looking for things that survived. A friend, Glenwood Springs artist Kirstie Steiner, dropped by one day to help.”I kept seeing so much stuff,” Steiner said. “It was so intense, I asked if I could do a sculpture with it. At first, they didn’t like the idea at all. Then they started putting things aside for me.”The result was a sculpture that debuted at the Glenwood Springs Fall Art Festival. By the time the sculpture was finished, the Beslers wrote a poem to go with it. Steiner is offering the sculpture for sale to benefit the Beslers. It’s priced at $5,000, but she would be happy with anything over $1,000.Steiner has more salvaged things stockpiled, and plans to create more sculpture to commemorate the fire.For the Beslers, fire wasn’t the only hazard to face last summer. In August, thunderstorms sent a 900-ton mudslide down on their property, and another three slides onto the private road that serves the homes above the fish hatchery.After living for a while in a motel, the retired couple moved into a two-bedroom apartment in West Glenwood, using furniture on loan.For weeks, Ralph went back up Mitchell Creek to clear mud, cut down burned trees, redig a borrow ditch alongside the road and work with the city crews as they restored utilities.Now, nearly six months after the fire, the Beslers are making plans to rebuild. “We are planning to assess the site come April, after the meltoff, and then try to rebuild next year,” Ralph said. The Beslers are still wrangling with their insurance company, Travelers, over reimbursements.They must list their possessions, where they were purchased and the price paid, in order to collect on 100 percent of the value, Ralph said. “If you don’t itemize, you have to settle for 75 percent.”It appears the Beslers will have to take out a construction loan to build the house again.”They say they’ll replace the house, but they won’t pay us until we rebuild. They have paid a couple three months rent for us, but they’re saying they don’t understand why we haven’t rebuilt. They don’t understand the mudslides,” Ralph said.The Beslers didn’t want to start building until the mudslides had come down, and more may be coming. And they didn’t want to start the project late in the fall and be caught by snow – on the construction site or on the narrow, steep Mitchell Creek Road.In addition, Ralph had to redraw the house plans, also lost in the fire.”Technically, we have been busy,” Renae said, “but it doesn’t seem like we’ve accomplished much.”This week, the Beslers are in Oklahoma, celebrating the holiday with their daughter and her family, and marking another special occasion. Their grandson, Andrew Roewe, 18, was inducted last week as an Eagle Scout.They said faith got them through this time, along with the generosity of friends, family and strangers.The Valley View Hospital Auxiliary, which Renae volunteers for, hosted a shower to replenish her supply of household goods. Lift-Up and Defiance Thrift Store shared clothing and other goods.”Our friends and family have been wonderful, and even people that don’t know us,” Renae said. “You can’t help but have a good attitude when people step in and help.”She believes their working life when Ralph served in the military gave them the fortitude to “take it on the chin and keep going.””It can’t do any good to cry about it, but you can’t help it once in a while,” she added.”You’ve got to roll with the punches,” Ralph said.

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