A small jewelry box lay soaking wet in the gutter. Inside, a diamond wedding ring was tucked safely in the velvet-lined base, unscathed amid the lingering smoke and flames from the Getty fire.
Firefighters from Engine 89 battling the blaze spotted the box Wednesday. Strong winds were threatening to spread the destructive fire, which had ignited two days earlier, as various other fires raged throughout the state.
The fire crew delivered the precious find to Jaime Moore, an assistant chief and public information officer with the Los Angeles Fire Department and the de facto lost-and-found keeper for the base. He’d arrived in the area at 2 a.m. Oct. 28 and wouldn’t leave for a week.
Moore trekked to the Bel-Air road where the ring had been discovered.
“There was only one house that was truly destroyed” there, he said.
Moore noted the address, believing it to be the place where the ring belonged — the only thing left of the burned-out home.
On Friday, Moore greeted evacuees as they returned to assess the damage from the Getty fire. Checking addresses, he spied the one he’d been searching for throughout the morning.
The resident’s insurance company had already told her that her house was gone, but she came back to view the ashes anyway. Moore didn’t know the woman’s name, but he told her to wait, that he had something to show her.
He retrieved the ring from his car, where he’d secured it, and handed over the box. Did she recognize it, he asked?
The woman was overcome by emotion.
In 1961, on the same spot where she’d just lost her house in the Getty fire, the woman’s previous home burned in the Bel-Air fire — a two-day brush fire that destroyed nearly 500 homes and forced mass evacuations, including then-former Vice President Richard Nixon and his wife.
The woman’s house was rebuilt and, for more than 50 years, withstood the test of time. The ring belonged to her mother, the longtime resident told Moore. The ring itself had survived a previous fire in Las Vegas in the 1990s.
“This was the only thing that survived this fire for the family,” Moore said.
The woman gave Moore a hug, and he escorted her up the hill, where other firefighters greeted and walked with her to her burned-out home. Grief counselors waited nearby, a customary practice after a fire.
“We do everything we can to try to save every home. It’s so hard not to be able to,” Moore said.
Moore never learned the woman’s name until a news briefing Tuesday afternoon, when Patty Shales was introduced as the ring’s owner.
Shales said the ring originally belonged to her late mother, Dorothy McDonough. Shales said the ring was left tucked in a closet when she, her daughter and her dogs escaped from the Getty fire. She brought along the clothes on her back, a necklace and dog food.
Shales took the ring’s recovery as a sign of protection from her mom, who died after a battle with dementia. “My mom was so special. Anybody who ever knew my mom loved her,” she said.
Moore said that in the grand scheme of things, the small jewel could help only so much in the wake of great loss. But in a week that saw so much devastation, the reunion between the woman and the wedding ring was a bright spot.
“A ring so simple, so small, can mean so much to a family.”