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Rising From the Ashes

Jim Key took a moment to mourn the loss of his 1971 BMW R75/5 after the High Park Fire in Colorado destroyed his home last June.

Jim Key took a moment to mourn the loss of his 1971 BMW R75/5 after the High Park Fire in Colorado destroyed his home last June. (Photo submitted by Jim Key)

Heather Reinhart
May 2, 2013
Filed under Features

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Motorcycling is everything to Jim Key. He got his first motorcycle at age 10 and makes a living doing what he loves, running a videography business filming motorcycle trips and races. Jim met his wife, Jeannie, at a motorcycle rally and they both love to ride. Jeannie has done some work for Honda’s motorcycle events, and Jim worked for BMW Denver before the couple moved to their dream property in the mountains outside Fort Collins, Colorado, three years ago.

The Keys worked to renovate their home and filled their 40- x 40-foot shop with tools, five bikes and piles of motorcycle gear. They could take off on a two-up trip on a moment’s notice. Jim does motorcycle restorations and repairs on the side and said he was living the dream on his remote 25-acre mountain property.
Then everything changed.

The morning of June 9, 2012, Jim woke up and noticed a big plume of smoke to the west. He took his favorite motorcycle, a BMW R 1150 GS Adventure, to the top of the mountain to see what was going on. He spent two hours filming the forest fire, which he said was moving very erratically, “But I never felt threatened.” He thought several different events would have to come together just right in order for it to reach him. Unfortunately, they did.

Jim and Jeannie Key’s house and shop before it was destroyed in the High Park Fire in Colorado in June 2012.

Jim and Jeannie Key’s house and shop before it was destroyed in the High Park Fire in Colorado in June 2012.

Jim brought his wife up the mountain to see the fire, and when they were heading home they were stopped by police, who gave the couple 15 minutes to grab whatever belongings they could stuff into Jim’s Suburban and Jeannie’s car. The motorcycles stayed behind.

Three days later, their mountain home, Jim’s shop and all his motorcycles were gone, completely destroyed by the High Park Fire. It made national headlines and burned 87,250 acres in the mountains west of Fort Collins, destroying 258 homes. Firefighters nicknamed the fire “The Dragon” because it moved in unusual ways and just kept going and going.

Three weeks passed before the couple was able to return and survey the damage. For the most part, they found piles of ashes where their home and shop had once stood. Very little remained.

After pulling what was left of the garage roof off the ground, Jim found the charred remains of his 1971 BMW R75/5 tucked underneath. The rest of his bikes had melted into nearly indistinguishable puddles of metal. Wearing a cowboy hat and white hazmat suit, Jim laid over what was left of the motorcycle’s frame and snapped a photo.

“It was how I felt,” he said. “It’s like going to a wake and kissing someone you love good-bye.”

He later posted the image on Facebook and was amazed by the number of supportive comments and personal messages that came rolling in. He said people offered to let him borrow their bikes, and to come out and help the family rebuild.

Thankfully, the Keys were well insured. In early August, Jim found a 2004 R 1150 GS Adventure at the BMW MOA Rally and rode it home from Ohio. A couple from Nevada gave him two airhead BMWs and a trailer full of parts.

“All the bikes in there, they were my babies,” Jim said after the fire. “I lost a few of my best friends in my garage. I give my bikes personalities and names. I know every little sound and thing they do. Those bikes were like my kids, but I’ll get new bikes.”

The rebuilding has already begun and the shop is almost done. As of late February, the house foundation had been poured and the framers were about to start.

“Snow is slowing us up a bit, but we should be moved back up on our mountain before the first anniversary of the fire,” Jim said.

The fire wasn’t the worst of 2012 for Jim Key. His Marine son, Jared, was sent to Afghanistan in September and his unit was hit on Thanksgiving day. Thankfully, he is fine.

“2012 was the worst, sad, terrifying, and full-of-miracles year ever, and I’m glad it’s over,” Jim said.

To read more about Jim Key and his family, CLICK HERE to read our original story, which was published online in August 2012.

(This Rising From the Ashes article was published in the May 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)

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