CHINA — From the charred remains of what used to be her home, Joyce Bragg was able to salvage one thing: a small cardboard box containing her diamond ring and her husband’s wedding ring.

The mobile home, extended garage and woodshed at 28 Albion Road was destroyed in a fire last week that also claimed the lives of Bragg’s two cats, Basil and Button. But Bragg, who lost her husband, Wayne, about four years ago in a car accident, believes he was looking over her last Thursday night and helped her escape alive.

While sorting through the remains of the house, her son-in-law found the cardboard box containing the rings, which Bragg stopped wearing two years ago in an effort to try to move on with her life, along with a slightly burned Polaroid photo of Wayne.

“I know my husband was there to save me and wake me up,” said Bragg, 67. “I don’t care what anyone says. Why didn’t the rings melt, but everything else did?”

The fire is believed to have originated in a wood stove in the mobile home about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, according to China Village Fire Chief Tim Theriault. He said flames quickly destroyed the house, which was engulfed when firefighters arrived amid freezing temperatures.

“I’d just gone to bed about a half an hour before the fire,” Bragg recalled Wednesday. “I’d just fallen asleep, but I woke up with a start when I smelled smoke. I sat up, swung my feet over the side of the bed and ran through the little hallway into the kitchen. The fireplace, the wood box, the front of the carpet and the curtains were all aflame.”

Bragg opened the front door and ran into the driveway, screaming for her cats to come. A neighbor, Wendy Kyle, who saw the fire, came and gave her slippers to Bragg, who had no shoes.

“She was so wonderful to me and just kept saying to me, ‘Thank Jesus that you’re still alive,’ and within six minutes the place was totally gone,” Bragg said. “It just went.”

Since the fire, Bragg has been staying with her son-in-law and daughter, Ellen and Roger Blaisdell, in Clinton. She thought everything was lost before she returned to the scene the day after the fire with her insurance agent.

“I was crying. I was really upset, because that’s the first time I’d really looked at it in the daylight,” Bragg said. “I looked at the insurance man and I said, ‘There’s only three things I would want: my husband, my babies and my diamond ring.'”

She went to sit in the car for a while and take a break from looking through the remains of the house when her son-in-law came down and had her roll down the window.

“He said, ‘Mom, I love you,’ and I rolled down the window, and he found my diamond and my husband’s ring in the little cardboard box and it never had a bit of soot on it. No black and nothing was burnt. And right beside it was my husband’s picture,” Bragg said.

The Polaroid photo had been lying beside the box. She hasn’t taken the rings off since then.

“I guess he didn’t want me to take them off,” Bragg said.

“I haven’t dated or seen anyone since my husband died, but I thought maybe I might be able to start” and so, stopped wearing the rings, she said. “I haven’t though. I haven’t gone anywhere or done anything, because he was the most magnificent husband in the world.”

Wayne Bragg died in a car accident in Troy in December 2010 after he hit a patch of black ice and lost control of his truck, according to published reports. Before the accident, Wayne Bragg had lost a leg to bone cancer, but his disability never stopped him from doing anything, his wife said.

“He was the most kind person,” Joyce Bragg said. “He’d stop on the side of the road, get his crutches out, and help another man change a tire when he only had one leg. He was always helping other people.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm