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Newton couple happy to rebuild after fire

Last year, Rena Miller and her partner, Linda Roovart, faced every homeowners biggest nightmare when they  lost everything in a fire at the home they shared on 217 E. 10th St. S. in Newton.

The fire started after a newly restored ’89 Ford Mustang had an electrical short, which set the carport adjacent to the house ablaze. The car had just been shown at the “Cool Cars ‘Round the Square” car show on July 27.

That car show was the first and last time the Mustang was ever shown publicly. Linda said the fire began at 9:45 p.m., was full blaze by 10:15 p.m. and by 4 a.m. they were in a motel.

“(We arrived) with the clothes on our back and barefooted,” Rena said.

Rena was devastated by the fire. She originally purchased the home in March of 1963, and for the last 50 plus years prior to the incident, it had served as the gathering spot for nearly every family occasion. In the time since her initial purchase, Rena estimated she’s invested around $250,000 in maintenance, expansions, remodels and upkeep for the home.

Linda said after the fire, it took Rena two and a half months to even come and look at the house. Rena said it was just too much to bear to see the house in that condition.

“I couldn’t do it. It was my baby —  it was my house,” Rena said.

In 2011, she lost four relatives — including her mother and daughter — and the house held photos of them and items that had belonged to them, most of which were lost during the fire. Luckily, her mother’s ashes were recovered.

During her five decades of owning the home, she said this was the only time it had ever caught on fire or sustained significant damage.

“All of it,” Rena said on how much of the home was ruined.

“The kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom and the living room were all gutted,” Linda added.

The carport is located on the south side of the home and from there, the fire spread to the location where the kitchen was formerly located. Total damage to the home was caused by a combination of fire, smoke, water and axes.

“When they tore it down, there was nothing but the shell there,” Rena said. “There were no walls, no nothing —  just the outside shell. No insulation or nothing.”

Saturday, the same car show where the Mustang was last seen fully intact will take place again on the square. While they haven’t replaced the classic muscle car they lost, they have been able to rebuild their home.

Rena said they got $147,000 to rebuild the house and $60,000 to replace their belongings from their insurance company. It took around six months to rebuild the house and on New Year’s Eve, she and Linda got to come back home.

“It’s a new house from the basement up,” Rena said.

“New windows, siding, insulation — you name it,” Linda said.

Both were very hands-on in helping design the layout of the new house, which now has an expanded bedroom, a wide-open country style kitchen and an elongated living room.

As the anniversary of the fire looms, Rena knows nothing can replace the memories she lost due to the fire, but she and Linda are delighted to be back in their home.

“I love it,” Rena said of the new house. “It’s still home. It doesn’t feel like a different home.”

Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 6532, or at

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