The pile of ash and debris that was once Ray and Janet Blackwell's Bastrop home, is now a reminder of how fast the fires in central Texas took away everything that folks had worked their entire lives for.
"This was our dream house. This is what we worked for and hoped for," said Blackwell.
For the couple married for 29 years it's still hard to comprehend that their home of 14 years, where they raised their children, is gone.
"You know we thought we knew what to expect but we really didn't. We weren't prepared. It was very upsetting, especially to my wife," said Blackwell.
After 11 days, the Blackwell's returned to Bastrop to find their home burned down to the ground. Their first two thoughts, the family cat and a family heirloom.
"We had an outdoor cat that we actually found, he was alive but burned. We were able to get him rescued and taken to the vet, so that was the first thing. The second thing was to find my Dad's class ring from A&M."
Ray decided to start digging in the middle of the rubble, in the same place where a dresser once stood that held his father's Aggie ring.
"It probably took us about two hours before we finally found it. It was just a process of digging and sifting through and when I found the ring, I actually just dug my hands into the ashes and sifted through them with my fingers and it was right there in my palm," said Blackwell, looking at his palm.
Despite being in a pile of rubble for 11 days, the ring was found in one piece.
"The ring is in remarkably good condition. I haven't attempted to have it cleaned yet. I think I'll contact Balfour and see what they can do. All the features are there so it probably just needs to be polished up and it'll be good as new. Then it's going into a safe deposit box," said Blackwell while carefully looking at the ring in his hands.
Ray's daughter Jillian attended Texas A&M and posted a picture of the ring on Facebook. That picture has become a symbol of hope for Aggies who have a connection to the fires in Bastrop.
"It's amazing the Aggies that have just reached out and have had comments about it. We're very excited about it and it's just part of the Aggie spirit," said Blackwell.
Despite being a Purdue graduate, Ray and his family have only missed two Aggie football games in 18 years. The first when Hurricane Rita hit the Texas coast, the other when his son graduated from the Naval Academy.
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