Herriman families moving back in to homes destroyed by fire 8 months ago

Permitting processes, a string of bad luck haunt families as they try to rebuild their lives.
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Herriman • After eight months of bouncing between a fifth wheel and an apartment, the Givan family of three and their two dogs and cat have returned home.

But after it was ravaged last June in the Rose Crest Fire, they wonder if they'll ever really feel at home.

"There is nothing that is normal anymore," said Tim Givan inside his rebuilt home on Majestic Oaks Drive. "Everything is impacted because of this."

Green grass is sprouting on the scorched earth of what looks like a blackened war zone where a wildfire ravaged more than 430 acres, but the memories of the past eight months won't be so easily erased.

"It was just devastating. Everything you have worked so hard for is just gone," Givan said, adding the family was "overwhelmed" by trying to decide where to start.

They knew the journey would be tough, but they never imagined it would become such a saga.

The delays begin • After the fire, which forced the evacuation of some 950 homes and consumed four, Salt Lake County allowed residents who needed to rebuild their homes to be put on a short list for building-permit approval, according to Michelle Schmitt, deputy communications director in the county mayor's office.

"It is highly irregular to have an eight- or nine-month waiting time period," she said of the Givans' situation, adding that typically the building-permit process for a subdivision takes six months. However, it can complicate things when people do a complete redesign of their home with additions instead of just a rebuild.

The two-week building-permit approval process for rebuilt homes is rare and was instituted only because of the special circumstance, she said. Givan said he applied for the permits, but his contractor mistakenly filed the building plans as a new home construction. That meant his permit request went to the bottom of the wrong pile. The contractor's original promise was that family members would be moving into their home by Thanksgiving. It wasn't until November that Givan discovered the mix-up. He fired the contractor and hired a new one to finish the building process.

By then, the family members had realized their fifth wheel wasn't going to be warm enough to weather the winter and had moved into an apartment through February. They couldn't believe how many people helped out during their loss. The community rallied to offer help and even gave Michelle Givan's daughter, Ashley Liles, 14, supplies to start school in the fall.

"This kind of stuff makes you see the good in people," Liles said.

They had planned to move back into their home in early March, but were delayed yet again for a week after finding out the harsh winter had broken the water line into the house and flooded the basement.

Finally, everything was taken care of, and they were able to move in.

"There is just an inner peace just to be home and know that everything is OK," said Michelle Givan while munching on some Twizzlers in her newly built kitchen.

Not the only one • Out of the four families displaced by the fire, the Givan family's move feels fast compared to Stephen Crain, who is still framing his house after his home was decimated.

The fire burned his four-bedroom home so badly he had to pour a new foundation. He didn't break ground until January. He said the delay was all due to a messy permitting process.

"I'd have to quit my job if I had to do it myself," he said. "It's a giant bucket of red tape and a giant hassle you have to swim through."

To make matters worse, a fire-proof security safe holding money was looted from his property along with charred machinery before he even had a chance to enter the evacuated area.

But others stepped up to help.

He was grateful for the good Samaritans who came out of nowhere. Local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave him vouchers for clothes at Deseret Industries Thrift Store, and the American Red Cross of Utah put him in a hotel while he sorted out his situation.

Silver linings • If anything can survive a fire, it is the Givans' family cat, Smudge. They named the white cat because it was covered in gray ash when the family members found it after the 2011 Machine Gun Fire. Smudge had been missing for a week after the fire, and they were sure it had died. Firefighters even told them they found what looked like a pile of fur in the house. Cleaning crews already had been throughout the home, and Tim Givan had searched the home three times himself for the feline. One night Tim Givan went to the property to turn off the water and shined his flashlight on the house and saw the cat just sitting inside a bedroom window.

Michelle Givan recalls her husband walking into the fifth wheel carrying the cat.

"It was like seeing a ghost," Michelle Givan said, adding that this cat survived a second fire, which she hopes will be the last.

Now that the family members have finally moved back, they are looking for the positives.

"The bright side of all this is we were able to fix some things we didn't like," Tim Givan said, noting the previous layout of the house. "But I don't think the stress of it all was a justification."

cimaron@sltrib.com Twitter: @CimCity