Despite losing her Brentwood home and essentially everything inside during the Getty Fire, Patty Shales says she still feels “blessed.”
Other than her loved ones and the clothes on her back, the only thing to escape the flames was her mother’s wedding ring that somehow made it to the street, where it was picked up by firefighters.
What makes the discovery all the more unlikely is that the ring was one of the few items salvageable after a fire destroyed Shales’ parents’ home in Las Vegas in 1994.
Details of the story relayed Tuesday differ from those set forth in an Instagram post from the Los Angeles Fire Department Monday. The agency said Shales’ mother had lived in a Brentwood home that burned down in the 1961 Bel Air Fire.
Shales says the ring was kept in a box with other jewelry passed down by her mom, tucked in a cupboard in her bedroom’s walk-in closet at the rear of the home on Chickory Lane. No one is sure how it became the only item cast into the road.
“I consider this a miracle ring of all rings,” Shales said. “This is so symbolic, I just can’t believe it happened.”
Firefighters who were working on the street on Oct. 30 happened to peer into the gutter, brimming with water runoff, and noticed a ring box in the stream. They collected it with the hopes of finding the owner, said LAFD Assistant Chief Jaime Moore.
The next day, when homes were being repopulated, Shales approached Moore as he was checking residents’ identification. He says he recognized Shales’ address right away, because hers was on the only home destroyed on her block.
“I had the unfortunate task of telling her that her house had been destroyed,” Moore said. “But I asked her to hold on a minute, that I might have something for her.”
Shales says she immediately recognized the box.
Shales described her mother as “really a special person,” a native Angeleno and beautiful opera singer with “the clearest voice.” Her parents were married 70 years before her mother’s died following a battle with Alzheimer’s last November; her father is now 96.
She believes the ring’s unlikely survival — again — is a message from her mother.
“She sent me this to tell me she’s in heaven and she’s OK, and I’m going to be OK,” Shales said. “I just feel so blessed, and so grateful to the firemen.”
When she and her daughter saw flames approaching the morning the Getty Fire broke out, they barely had time to escape and left with only the clothes on their backs, Shales said.
“I could see these big balls of fire pieces — just raining fire,” she said. “I had to find my purse and my keys and get my dogs leashed up.”
As they were leaving, Shales said she could see flames consuming her home in the rear-view mirror: “I just said goodbye to the house; I had no idea that was going to happen.”
She’d lived in the home since 1976. It was designed by her husband, who passed away in 2007 after battling pancreatic cancer.
“Although I lost my home, I survived, my daughter survived and my dogs (survived),” Shales said. “I don’t have one other thing — I don’t have anything, except for this.”
The blow has been softened a bit by the fact that Shales was already planning to move — and now, she won’t have many belongings to pack up, she joked. She said she plans to move into a smaller place, “maybe away from the fire zone, and rest easy.”
Shales’ advice to those who do live in fire-prone areas: Fill a suitcase with important documents, passports, things you can never replace and a pair of tennis shoes. “When I had to leave, I kind of had to run,” she said.