Amid the devastation of one of the worst wildfires in U.S. history that took the lives of 19 firefighters and destroyed dozens of homes, Larry and Patti McCracken experienced a tiny miracle.
The married couple of 50 years now have Patti McCracken's wedding ring back — found by one of their daughters under a foot of charred rubble that used to be their dream retirement home in the small town of Yarnell, where the Arizona fires raged June 30.
Dealing with the sad reality that 19 men in the prime of their lives died trying to protect Yarnell and with the loss of the home they worked for their entire lives, the McCrackens returned to the ruins Monday with heavy hearts and little hope.
Because they were on vacation, they didn't get a chance to grab family photo albums, heirlooms — and most precious of all, Patti's wedding ring — before the town was evacuated before the fire struck. Patti wasn't in the habit of wearing the ring because it no longer fit.
But one of the McCrackens' daughters, Bethany Hansom, made up her mind to find it, spending hours digging through sooty debris before nearly giving up and saying one last prayer.
"Then I stuck my hand in the dirt and rolled over this big rock and there it was, plain as day," Hansom, 36, who lives in a Phoenix suburb, said in a telephone interview Friday.
Because her parents had been out picking up lunch for everyone when Hansom found the ring, she pulled her dad aside when he returned and told him he should be the one to give it back to his high school sweetheart.
So Larry worked up the nerve to pop the question for the second time in his life, getting down on one knee as his entire family watched.
"We hugged and we kissed and I said, 'Yes,' and I haven't taken it off since," said Patti, who now wears the ring on her pinkie finger. "It was just such a profound moment."
The band was charred black, but three diamonds on the ring sparkled like new.
"It wasn't a very big diamond, but it certainly was a symbol of what we've had together for 50 years," Patti said.
The McCrackens, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in September, met in their hometown of Euclid, outside of Cleveland, in northeastern Ohio. A decade later they fell in love with Arizona's sunsets and mountains and moved to Phoenix, where they raised their three children.
Patti, who will turn 68 on Saturday, and Larry, 71, retired from their blue collar jobs in January, sold their Phoenix-area house, and moved permanently to their home in Yarnell, up until then just a summer home.
They were just settling into their retired lives and looking forward to some relaxation, gardening and time with the grandkids before the Yarnell Hill fire hit.
Patti said she and Larry have been able to keep their loss in perspective, given the deaths of the firefighters, and will rebuild.
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