YARNELL, Ariz. -- As Roy and Stacy Pizzirusso evacuated their home during the Yarnell Hill Fire, Roy grabbed file folders stuffed with important paperwork.
He figured they would be back within a couple of days, but he took the car titles and property deed just in case.
Tucked next to the property deed was a floor plan for their two-bedroom house, including the dimensions for each room.
He had taken the measurements several years ago to prove that the home's actual square footage was less than that reflected on tax rolls.
Their home didn't survive the fire. But because Roy saved those floor plans, the Pizzirussos will be the first to rebuild since the fire destroyed 127 homes and burned 8,400 acres, or 13 square miles, in the Glen Ilah, Yarnell and Peeples Valley, communities about 30 miles south of Prescott, Ariz. The fire also killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
The Pizzirussos will be able to construct the new home in the footprint of their old home.
A groundbreaking ceremony and barbecue were held Saturday night for residents to mark the milestone.
"It's more than a house; it's home," said Roy. "We wanted it to be as close to the original as we could get it. That's what we're doing."
The Pizzirussos have one of two building permits that have been issued so far for the Yarnell area. The other permit is for a manufactured home. More are in the pipeline. Five to 11 additional permits are expected to be issued in the next two weeks, said Steve Mauk, the director of Yavapai County Development Services.
The Pizzirussos are the first to break ground because they didn't have to choose a new home design. Stacy, 51, owns a clothing and alterations shop in Yarnell. Roy, 66, is a retired Ford vehicle-parts salesman. Once they learned their insurance settlement would be enough to rebuild the same home, their decision was made.
"I knew I wanted my house back," Stacy said last week.
The centerpiece of their home still stands: a walk-around stone fireplace that was once in the front room.
They plan to make minor changes during the rebuild. Stacy had always been bothered by a wall that divided the living room, where the previous owner had added on to the house.
The home's exterior color will be the same, a camel brown with green trim. The interior colors will be updated, though, from tan tile and light-gray carpet to earth tones. As a form of therapy, the couple took a trip to Phoenix to pick out carpet and tile.
The focus on new faucets, sinks and toilets helped them stop thinking for a moment about everything they lost.
They expect the house to be ready in early 2014 if everything goes as planned. Until then, they are renting a three-bedroom cottage in Yarnell.
They weren't able to save many belongings. Stacy managed to get her grandmother's pearls, some other jewelry, clothing and pillows. Roy, a musician, saved two guitars and about half of a gun collection. They fled the fire in separate cars: Stacy in her 1987 Chevrolet El Camino with their dog, Odie, and Roy in the 1986 Jeep with their cat, Small Paws.
Stacy regrets that she didn't pack up more belongings ahead of time.
"I wasn't upset about losing the house," she said. "The house we can rebuild. It's the stuff inside the house that I can't replace: Grandma's things, Grandpa's things, family heirlooms that I felt like I was trusted with them, and look what happened. Now they are gone."
She said she knows, though, that she has to focus on the future. And she hopes the groundbreaking will inspire others in the community, too.
"This has been a terrible thing for all of us, whether you have lost your home or not," she said. "It's time to pick up and rebuild."
Frances Lechner, a spokeswoman for the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group, expected the area's first groundbreaking to be a festive occasion.
The all-volunteer group is raising money to help with unmet needs.
"There's nothing like a physical movement forward to inspire hope and confidence that, indeed, Yarnell will rebuild stronger and better," she said.
Anne Ryman, The Arizona Republic