Wednesday , 20 June 2018

Storybook Ranch Begins to Rebuild after Devastating Fire

By Ben Lane, TSB Staff

No one ever really thinks about the aftermath of a fire. The flames and the sirens attract everyone’s attention. Then the fire is put out, the smoke dies down and everyone just moves on. No one thinks about the burned wooden, brick and metal carcass that stands where there used to be a two-story building. For the staff of Storybook Ranch, the aftermath is all that they’re thinking about right now.

The Wild Bill’s/Calamity Jane’s Entertainment Pavilion at Storybook Ranch was almost completely destroyed by a massive fire on Jan. 3, which started in the electrical system. There were no injuries, however the ranch foreman was rescued from the second floor by the McKinney Fire Department.

The sprawling two-story building was one of the main buildings at Storybook Ranch and was used for weddings, birthday parties and other events. Very little of the building now remains. This is what the building used to look like:

All that’s left is part of the front of the building, some of the deck, and the chimney in the back. All of those bare the scars that only a fire can create. The building’s second story is now completely gone. Parts of the wooden deck are blistered and destroyed. The brick chimney stands tall above the destruction but its sides are blackened by soot. Check out the current scene below:

Where much of the building once stood, there’s now a 10-foot tall pile of rubble that’s over 30 feet wide. The debris pile is roughly the size of an 18-wheeler’s trailer. Storybook employees estimate there are at least 10 dump truck loads worth of debris that must be removed from the site before they can begin to rebuild. The cleanup process is still ongoing over a month after the fire took place.

Despite losing one of its main buildings, Storybook Ranch is still operating as close to normally as it can.

“We’re as much back to normal as we can be,” Storybook Ranch’s Large Program Director John Schaar told “We are able to do some of the things we normally do.”

Among those things that Storybook Ranch normally does is host birthday parties and other events, all as part of their efforts to raise money for their charity, which provides opportunities for underprivileged and special needs children to visit the ranch and interact with the ranch’s animals and other features.

Schaar recognizes the great benefit that is gained when children of all ages visit the ranch. “There’s a type of feeling that people get when they come out to the ranch, whether it’s 30 minutes, half a day or all day – we can give them a better day,” Schaar said.

That’s why it is so difficult to lose a main building. Making the problem worse is the gulf between how much money Storybook Ranch will get back from insurance and how much they actually need. Because of the size of the ranch and the age of some of the buildings, Storybook’s insurance coverage on the building itself was minimal and the damage is severe.

Storybook Ranch President Wayne Kirk, who oversees the non-profit venture, estimates the cost to rebuild will be between $450,000 and $500,000.  Many of the items in the building were from Kirk’s own collection. “Lots of the stuff in the building was mine. My homeowners insurance may cover part of it…maybe 10% but there’s still so much more to do,” Kirk said.

The current plans are to rebuild two smaller buildings on the site where the entertainment pavilion once stood. In place of the 9,000 square foot building, Kirk expects to have two buildings, one checking in at 3,600 square feet and another at 2,500 square feet. One positive, Kirk said, is that they can now see how beautiful the land is where the entertainment pavilion once stood. So now they plan on having an open-air party pavilion that will look out onto the creek that runs through the property.

The new buildings will also be built with modern electrical wiring and other utility improvements to make them safer so this sort of thing won’t happen again. Schaar also said they would make these new buildings more adaptable for the children with special needs that visit the ranch.

The vast majority of Storybook Ranch’s fundraising comes through visits and events, and those events are still taking place in some of the other buildings on the property. Kirk and Schaar are both incredibly passionate about the work of the ranch and recognize the contribution that the events hosted at the ranch play in their operations. “Everything we do is for charity. So, every time someone comes out, it’s for charity,” Kirk said.

“We’ve always been able to allow the special needs kids and underprivileged kids to come out for free. We’ve done very well with the type of money we’ve raised through our events, but now we need to do more because of the tragedy that we’ve had,” Kirk said. Both Kirk and Schaar said that there might be some separate fundraising events held at the ranch to help expedite the rebuilding process.

They hope to have the debris cleaned out quickly so they can begin rebuilding as soon as possible. Kirk hopes to have the rebuild done quickly. “I’m going to try to have the camp building (the smaller building) done by about March 15th. A separate metal building (the larger building) shouldn’t take more than about 60 days to build. If we have the funds, we could be completely done in 90-120 days…depending on permits and things like that,” Kirk said.

With a rebuild cost of nearly half a million dollars, Kirk knows they need help from the community to make Storybook Ranch whole again.

“Any kinds of funds that we can get will help us,” Kirk said. “We love Collin County and Storybook. The city is helping us rebuild the best way we can. If anyone can donate anything, we will welcome it. We pray we can get all the help we need.”

Photographs by Ben Lane and Storybook Ranch.

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