Aside from a guitar that had belonged to her late father, the yellow diamond Tiffany & Co. engagement ring was one of Laura Rao’s most prized possessions.
But on Friday, when Laura Rao, 39, and her husband Ishu, 48, were forced to evacuate their home in Goleta, California, amid a raging wildfire, the ring was left behind in a dish next to the bathroom sink.
“It’s not like me to not grab the ring right away because I treasure it,” Laura told The Washington Post. “But we could see flames coming towards us. It’s almost like you go into shock. All I did was just grab the dogs and the kids and we left.”
The couple had only been married about eight months.
Fleeing from a wildfire, now known as the Holiday Fire, was one of the last things the Raos thought they would be doing that Friday night, Ishu Rao told The Washington Post.
It was supposed to be a quiet night at home.
The couple had gotten ready for bed, and as she did every night, Laura took off her engagement and wedding rings, placing them in the dish by the sink. They were watching TV when they suddenly smelled the smoke.
“I got up and looked and there was an inferno like a half mile away,” Ishu said. “The only thing between the fire and us is a lot of dry brush . . . so we were like we gotta get out of here.”
Within minutes after calling 911, the couple got Ishu’s two daughters as well as three dogs and a cat out of the house and safely into cars. Laura was in her car when she realized she didn’t have her engagement ring.
“I was going to run back, but there was smoke, there were flames and I thought I could die if I could go back, so I drove away so upset,” Laura said. “I was devastated about the ring.”
About 20 minutes later, the wildfire reached their home, Laura said.
In a post on Facebook, Ishu shared a photo of the house burning down. The two-story home was engulfed in flames, the blaze coloring the night sky in an intense orange glow.
As of Sunday morning, 28 structures, which included 13 homes, had been destroyed by the Holiday Fire, according to an update from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
All that remained of the Rao’s home was ash and unidentifiable rubble, Ishu said, adding that on Sunday he and his wife had been allowed to go to the site to search for any possessions.
“You have this fantasy that you’re going to find something and there’s nothing left,” he said. “We had a massive two-story house and it all sunk down and it was ash. It was like the end of a long barbecue.”
In the ashes, the Raos searched for Laura’s engagement ring.
After piecing together a layout of the house from the rubble, Ishu said he was able to figure out the general location of the sink and used remains of plumbing as guidance. They found the ring, still in its dish.
Even though the ring was charred and missing the diamond, Ishu decided to recreate one of the couple’s happiest moments. Surrounded by the fire’s devastation, he knelt down on one knee and proposed to Laura again.
The impromptu proposal was caught on camera by Mike Eliason, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Eliason then shared the image in a tweet.
“I just thought it was kind of cute and I thought it might put a smile on her face,” he said. “I think I just said, ‘Will you marry me again?’ There wasn’t anything drawn out about it.”
The gesture took Laura by surprise.
“It was so sweet,” she said. “It just made things feel lighter because it was so heavy around us. There were homes that were down to the studs and neighbors and firemen everywhere. It just made a bad situation better for that moment.”
Of course, she said yes – again.
“It was truly a special moment out of the ashes,” Eliason told the Associated Press.
But what became of the diamond? Ishu said he looked it up. “I think I read online that diamonds will vaporize at 800 degrees” Celsius. Wildfires can reach that temperature and beyond.
National Geographic agrees that indeed, at that unfortunate point, “Diamonds Aren’t Forever.”
After leaving the site, the Raos went straight to Tiffany’s, Ishu said. He added that the store is already helping the couple find a replacement ring.
Ishu said he never expected that the proposal would get so much attention.
“I’m glad it’s made other people happy, but it made her happy, so for me, that’s the only thing that really mattered,” he said.