Historic Yarnell shrine slowly rebuilding 1 year after wildfire - Tucson News Now

Historic Yarnell shrine slowly rebuilding 1 year after wildfire

© CBS 5 News © CBS 5 News
YARNELL, AZ (CBS5) -

Piece by piece, a group of Catholic families built the Shrine of Saint Joseph of the Mountains back in 1939. It was almost entirely lost in the Yarnell Hill fire some 74 years later. 

So step-by-step, Maria Luisa Wasson is making sure the town's most well-known tourist attraction remains open.

"All of this was covered in soot," said Wasson.

"Everything?" asked CBS 5 New's Greg Argos.

"Everything. Everything. You could not walk here. It was like walking in a chimney," she responded. 

Wasson, whose husband's family opened the shrine during the Great Depression was working in the gift shop on June 30, 2013. She recalls seeing smoke in the distance and being worried about having to evacuate, but firefighters had told her she had time.

"(Emergency officials) said, 'You have four hours to leave. Get ready.' Fifteen minutes later, they said, 'Now.'"

When Wasson returned to the shrine 10 days later, she realized how badly damaged it was. The main source of donations, the gift shop, was destroyed. Three retreat center buildings were also damaged.

"Donations have been diminished," she said.

In addition, many of the handrails throughout the shrine were burned. The 14 stations of the cross that make up the shrine were darkened and dirty.

"Everything was black," said Wasson.

She said the only thing that appeared untouched by the flames, spotless in fact, was Jesus on the crucifix.

"It didn't have any smoke. We didn't have to wash it or paint it or anything. It was like someone was protecting it. It was amazing," recalled Wasson. 

Now, Wasson is hoping to get the shrine back to it's pre-fire condition. Volunteers have already helped clean much of it, but the structures that were lost have not been rebuilt. She hopes to start with the first of the buildings in July.

"The shrine has been here almost 75 years with no dollar paid. Nothing. Just by faith. So we have to have faith just somehow we'll be able to do it," she said.

If you'd like to donate, click here for information.

[Related: 74-year-old shrine badly damaged in Yarnell Fire]

Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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