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The Log Home Built After a Forest Fire

In the aftermath of a devastating fire, one couple rebuilds their log home and their life.

Written by Suzanna Logan
 
Every day, Jim Yates heads out his back door to a koi pond to feed his fish. As he nears the edge, a bright orange flash breaks the smooth, dark surface of the water. Ripples scatter across the pond as the koi signal their excitement. Jim carefully sprinkles in the food. Orbs of silver break through to the surface. Surrounded by his colorful friends, a waterfall and a lush garden, it’s a soothing ritual for Jim to come here — an unspoken reminder to soak up the serenity of this place.

The setting hasn’t always been so peaceful.

Just three years ago, a different home cast a shadow across this pond. It was the first home the Jim and his wife, Mary Ellen, had built, and it was the embodiment of their life-long dream. Constructed on the property where Jim was raised, no detail had been overlooked, down to the incorporation of stones from the fireplace of a nearby century-old house Jim’s great-great-grandfather had helped build. For nearly 25 years, that house was everything the couple had ever hoped for. But one phone call changed everything.
 

The evening of December 23, 2015, started out much like any other for the couple. After spending all day at work, Mary Ellen and Jim were ready to relax. They agreed to meet up with friends for dinner. A little over an hour after leaving home, they heard a cell phone ring. “Jim’s house is on fire!” the voice shouted. The couple rushed home, but it was too late. “The house was in blazes,” recalls Mary Ellen. Adds Jim: “It took 68 firefighters eight hours to put it out.”

Once the smoke had cleared, the couple sifted through the charred debris. “A few plates, dishes, a bronze vase — that was all we were able to save,” says Jim. In the days following the fire, Jim and Mary Ellen struggled to come to terms with the tragedy. But as the shock subsided, the couple agreed rebuilding their log home would help them heal. “Jim was raised here,” says Mary Ellen. “We have a beautiful piece of property, and we needed to be here — be home — for our own well-being.”

The couple reached out to Zoltan Obrusanszki, the local Jim Barna Log & Timber Homes representative. Together, they worked out a plan to tear the house down to the foundation to verify that it could support a new residence. While awaiting the report, the couple began looking into other possible designs, but when the foundation cleared inspection, they knew rebuilding the same plan was meant to be.
 

Sadly, tragedy struck again. The day after the insurance company finalized the claim on the original house, Jim fell off of a ladder, suffering a fractured skull. “I was in the hospital five times in 2016 and in surgery twice,” Jim says. During his recovery, Mary Ellen took the rebuilding reigns, working closely with Zoltan and builder Donnie Daugherty. “We finally had a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. Nearly 18 months after the fire, move-in day arrived. “There were a lot of emotions,” says Mary Ellen.

Today, the two-story design offers 4,000 square feet of easy-flowing living spaces and eye-catching architecture, including a glass prow front, vaulted ceilings and 9-inch, eastern white pine D-shaped logs with saddle-notched corners. “The larger log sizes feel more impressive and fit the scale of the home,” explains Zoltan. While Jim and Mary Ellen kept the original three-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom design with an open loft upstairs, they did make a few adjustments, including switching the former L-shaped kitchen to a galley “to create a better flow,” says Mary Ellen. In the process, they expanded the foyer and nixed the den in favor of a home office.

But the biggest change (Mary Ellen calls the idea her “ah-ha” moment) is the addition of a large gabled porch on the back of the house, located just a few feet from Jim’s koi pond. “When we sit out on the covered deck with the koi pond and the waterfall and the woods behind us, everything feels so peaceful,” says Mary Ellen. And, if you ask anyone who knows the Yates, they’ll tell you the serene feeling settled on the home isn’t in spite of what the couple has been through, but because of how they have persevered with grace. “We are so blessed to be where we are today,” says Jim. Mary Ellen adds: “No matter what, this is home.”
 


Tour the Log Home Built After a Forest Fire