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From ashes, a gem of a surprise

After a weekend of loss, something was found. In the midst of rubble, a dusty jewel.

Here’s how it happened Friday morning in a burned-down house on South Laurel Tree Drive in Anaheim Hills:

Four off-duty Anaheim firefighters showed up about 8:30 on a mercy mission. Last Saturday afternoon, Jeff and Dana Philblad’s house and everything in it just melted away. What had been a two-story house of 2,500 square feet now was little more than a mass of dirt, tile, glass, nails and wiring. The couple and 11-year-old Wesley got out safely, along with the family cat and dog.

Early in the week, Dana Philblad, six months pregnant, had heard through the local grapevine that some firefighters were willing to scour the wreckage of homes for small items that might have survived.

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She hadn’t been able to wear her wedding ring because her fingers had swollen during her pregnancy. She’d kept it in a basket in the upstairs bathroom. Was there any chance, she wondered.

Not much, was the answer. The ring had probably melted with everything else. Not to mention that the house looked like a demolition site.

But on Friday, for the third time this week, a group of firefighters armed with shovels, 5-gallon buckets and screens acting as sieves volunteered to sift through the rubble some more.

The debris and dirt was 2 to 3 feet deep in most places. The volunteer crew on Friday had gone through about 40 bucketloads and was about to give up shortly past 11 a.m. when something hard didn’t fall through the screen.

“The ring just landed there for a second,” firefighter Greg Fox says. “It was covered up. I grabbed it, could see it was a ring, rinsed it off and thought, ‘Wow, maybe this really is it.’ ”

Dana had left minutes earlier, telling them she completely understood if they wanted to abandon ship. The crew -- Fox, Gregg Ohara, Steve Lake and Tim Sandifer -- had decided to hang in a bit longer.

Not long after, Fox phoned her. “I said, ‘Hey, does this ring have a big square diamond on top and baguettes down the side? I think I may have found it.’ ”

Dana rushed home. “She walked over to us,” Fox says. “I said, ‘I hope this is what I think it is.’ I opened up my hand and showed it to her. She grabbed it and went to pieces.”

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In that instant, tears of happiness replaced the kind that had started falling six days earlier. Fox says Dana hugged each of the men for 15 to 20 seconds.

The whole upstairs had collapsed onto what had been the kitchen. The ring was in a pile of gray and black rubble more than 2 feet high.

Luck? Sifting skill? Keen eyesight?

“Take it as you will,” Fox says, “but three of the four of us are people of faith. I told one of my buddies just a couple minutes earlier I thought we didn’t have much of a chance. But I told him I’d asked God that if he could help us find something for these people, that would be awesome. Little did I know that two of the other three guys had the same thought and had prayed that in their hearts. Within 15 to 20 minutes, we came up with the ring. It was like a little blessing for us, to be involved and share that with the family.”

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I forgot to ask Dana Philblad whether getting the ring from Fox made her happier than getting it years ago from her husband, Jeff. But she was joyful.

“It had nothing to do with the dollar value,” she says. “It had everything to do with the sentimental value of the ring. It’s a symbol of our love. I can’t tell you after having everything taken from you and being able to find something that I’d been hoping and praying I could find, I don’t know, it definitely lifted my spirits.”

Realizing she’d just lost her home, I wondered how she felt about Fox’s theory of divine inspiration regarding the ring.

“I think there’s something behind that,” she says. “I definitely believe that was the force behind them finding it. It was such a pile of rubble, it was unbelievable. It was a miracle they found that ring in that pile. I can’t believe they did.”

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I’m happy to give credit wherever it’s due. And in that spirit, I won’t exclude the humanity of the various combinations of Anaheim firefighters who took days off to help distraught residents.

Even if Fox and his group hadn’t found the ring, the effort was of the highest order of merit.

And because it came with a happy ending, so much the better.

“Those guys were awesome,” Dana Philblad says. “They were there to find that ring. That’s what they were going to do.”

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dana.parsons@latimes.com


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