The news arrived in an email, sent on behalf of Public Storage's district manager.
"Dear Valued Customer. A fire struck this facility September 7, 2012. Regrettably, the building and space where your goods are stored may have been severely affected by this fire."
Julie Jacobs read the email about 8 at night, roughly eight hours after the fire broke out.
The Lake Bluff resident said she called the facility to ask if she could pick up her belongings, and was told to set up an appointment. An employee at the Park City facility told her not to worry, Public Storage had hired a security company to monitor the property.
The email she received included an attachment.
"If you deem your goods to be unsalvageable, Public Storage can dispose of the items on your behalf by signing the attached Release for Disposal," the email said.
Jacobs said she did not sign the release, and set an appointment for Sept. 9, 2012, to view her belongings.
Downsizing from a four-bedroom house, Jacobs had filled the storage unit less than two months earlier with antiques, a snowblower, a $5,000 table and other pieces of her life.
She expected to find many of her items damaged but salvageable. Instead, she found next to nothing.
Only a handful of belongings remained in her unit — a concrete rooster, two chairs, a plastic storage box filled with extension cords, and a couple of tables. A Public Storage employee handed her some photo albums that had survived.
Everything else was gone.
"I had asked where all my other stuff was, and I was told that it was disposed of," Jacobs said. "I asked how and who could determine what of my stuff was no longer salvageable or valuable to me?"
Jacobs said she was told a cleanup crew threw out the other belongings "for safety reasons."
She wasn't convinced.
Photos of her property when it was heaped in front of her storage unit immediately after the fire show some of her items were either unharmed or mildly damaged, she said.
Jacobs filed a claim with her personal renters insurance policy, which paid her the depreciated value of her belongings, about $50,000. She said the items were worth about $185,000.
At least some of what was missing should never have been thrown out, she said.
"They stole my belongings without my permission," she said.
In November, Jacobs filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Public Storage responded that her belongings were destroyed and hauled off "as rubble." Public Storage said it compensated her for two months' rent, a total adjustment of $178. Jacobs said she received $86.
When she asked for additional compensation, Public Storage told her it would have to come from her insurance company, Jacobs said.