COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Tuesday will be Linda Steele's 60th birthday.
She had planned on celebrating it in her Cottonwood Heights home, the one that her husband, Michael Ricks, built 20 years ago and where so many family birthdays and holiday celebrations — including this past Thanksgiving dinner — have been hosted.
But Steele's plans changed on Dec. 4 when fire engulfed the home at 1921 E. Creek Road (7300 South), leaving her and her husband with only the clothes they were wearing that day.
"It's been devastating," Steele said Sunday in front of the burned structure, pausing at times to collect herself. "To lose everything and just see your house just gone is really, really hard. I'm not going to skirt it, it's hard."
For Steele, the destruction means the loss of "priceless memories."
"The first thing that came to mind when I knew my house was burning was my photographs and heirlooms. You can't replace photographs. You can't replace heirlooms. I mean, heirlooms from all over the world, from my parents' travels and my son, who is in the military and brought things back from Afghanistan, really beautiful scarves," she said.
Ricks, a musician and audio engineer, lost his collection of vintage guitars and amps, including a 1965 Gibson guitar.
"They all have a story. They all remind me of part of my life. It's almost like they have a life of their own," he said.
The official cause of the fire hadn't been determined as of Sunday. But Ricks said he and fire investigators strongly believe it had something to do with the wood burning stove.
Despite their loss, the couple has tried to remain positive. For one, they know how fortunate they are that no one was home when the fire started and no one was injured.
The couple said they are also grateful for the support they've received from friends and family members. Steele's children set up a GofundMe account to help them get back on their feet.
"With nothing left but the clothes on their backs, my mom, while understandably devastated and grief struck, still managed to remind me that we'll always have our memories and that this should only make us stronger. This fund-raising effort is for two people who have given so much to their family as well as the community," the children wrote on the page. "It is for two people who truly know what matters the most in life, but due to circumstances, will need all the help they can get to rebuild."
Ricks said he will rebuild on the same property and is looking forward to seeing how it will turn out.
"We feel really blessed and fortunate nobody was hurt," Steele said. "We're alive, we have our family, and we're going to go up. We're going to make it."