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Jun 13, 2012 1:16 AM

Monument Fire, 1 Year Later: Historic shrine rising from the ashes

SIERRA VISTA - Some of the worst damage caused by the Monument Fire last year was to the famous Our Lady of the Sierras shrine.

Several buildings were lost and there was extensive damage to the chapel, but one year later it's making a comeback.

The shrine sits high up in the mountains, known for its peacefulness and beauty, but one year ago there was nothing peaceful about it as the fire ripped through with a roar that destroyed all silence. It was so intense you would think it would leave nothing behind but that wasn't the case.

Nannette Chouinard is with the Our Lady of the Sierras shrine. She said, "The heat from the fire was so intense, even when it was up here on the hillside near the chapel it could be felt down on the highway. Down on Highway 92."

The heat and flames that didn't destroy everything, but it did take a toll. Chouinard said, "Of the chapel the only thing that remained was the outside masonry structure of the building. The rest was completely gone."

Geri Goralski comes to the shrine around this time every year for her birthday. This was her first time back since the fire. She said, "Just to see the cross and the statue of our lady and see the Stations of the Cross is very heart warming.

She knew there was damage, particularly to the chapel, but what she didn't know was how far it's come since.

As she walked through the door Goralski said, "O look. It's beautiful. He's risen from the ashes. He's totally risen from the ashes."

That's a biblical saying that perhaps couldn't be more appropriate. Goralski said, "Out of a crucifixion came life and out of this fire came this and I guess it will still continue."

Something she said is important; not just to her but to all of Southern Arizona and beyond. She said, "In this world where spiritual connections are so very few that this was a place that many many people could have a spiritual connection."

The mural will be complete very soon and the buildings that burned are expected to be built back eventually. It won't be the same because of all the history that was lost but Chouinard said when it comes to beauty it's going to be even better.

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