Sunday, August 19, 2007

Angora Fire-- one man's journey

Unedited 08-07 Tahoe Mt. News story

Editor’s note: This is a monthly article about one of the hundreds of people who lost their homes because of the Angora Fire.

By Kathryn Reed

A screwdriver.
That little tool nearly sent John Mauriello over the edge one day. Not having one made the simple task of assembling a computer desk a lengthy process by the time he went to the store to buy one and emotionally came to grips with the fact he has no tools.
Rebuilding is taking on meanings Mauriello is only beginning to understand. His was one of more than 250 houses lost in the Angora Fire as it swept through his Mount Olympia Circle neighborhood.
The 68-year-old is rebuilding one day at time. It encompasses inventorying what was lost, creating a new address book, figuring what he wants his next home to look like, acquiring a wardrobe, assembling important papers he’d never imagined would be part of his life, rebuilding a routine – something he says isn’t happening just yet.
“It’s not just the losses, but the psychological damage. The rug of security gets yanked from you. I’m still having horrible dreams at night … waking up at 3 in the morning,” Mauriello said.
Attending meetings
Sitting in the second row, wearing the Adidas cap he fled his house with on that horrific day, Mauriello listens to the dozen or so speakers July 23 at South Tahoe High School.
Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, has assembled the cast of characters to tell the 300 plus people what their respective agencies are doing about fire and fuel reduction and what might be done differently in the future.
Mauriello was one of 23 people to ask a question. His concerns center on educating the public about fire.
“Why has the silence of this investigation been deafening?” he asked in regards to the illegal campfire that ignited the 3,100 acre blaze.
The panel did not respond to anyone’s questions.
Mauriello hung around to talk to neighbors. He was disappointed in the meeting. He had hoped more specific needs of victims would have been addressed.
He wants more education about fire danger, adding that a wooden bear with a sign is merely ignored as people speed by. He wants programs from preschool into college.
“I see people on Lake Tahoe Boulevard smoking. I say please keep your cigarette in your car. She had a Keep Lake Tahoe Blue bumper sticker,” Mauriello said of his efforts to do his part to teach people. He said his words aren’t always well received.
A helping hand
When told some people around town are talking trash about victims and how much they are reaping from insurance companies and all the fund raisers, Mauriello got steamed.
“I’d gladly trade places with any one of them,” he said.
Yes, his Hartford insurance through the AARP has been good so far. But a settlement is from being inked. They sent a check for this charred BMW. It’s in the bank for now.
Yes, the Angora Fire Fund wrote him a check for $500. It helped pay off his credit card bill that had a computer, printer, chair and desk on the bill.
Yes, he went shopping with a woman from the Lion’s Club at Sports Ltd. where he got a winter jacket. It’s his only piece of warm clothing. A pair of hiking boots is on order. He’s paying for part of it.
Yes, he was in the Miller’s Outpost parking lot on July 25 looking for clothes. He got a couple of XL shirts but couldn’t find shorts in his size. While others made his stomach turn as they clamored to take cases of food products, he left with two potatoes, a can of peaches and some coffee. (The giveaway was fire victims and low income residents.)
“I’ve never been on the receiving end in my life. I’ve been giving my whole life,” Mauriello said. “It’s not a question of satisfying your wants, it’s satisfying your needs. I’m wearing used clothing.”
As of the first full week of August, he had received about $2,000 in donations. Even the insurance company will reimburse him for things, it won’t cover everything.
He applied for a Small Business Administration loan but was denied because he spends more than he takes in as a retiree.
Mauriello had hoped to pay off his 6.25 percent loan on the house (no house doesn’t mean payments go away) in exchange for a 2 percent loan from the SBA.
South Tahoe Refuse sent him a check for $29.34 because he didn’t have garbage service at his house anymore.
Temporary lodging
By July 13, he was in a rental with his four cats. They have adjusted to the new, albeit, smaller living quarters.
Cable has been installed.
The computer with Internet is up and running.
Trips to stores here and off the hill have been made to slowly rebuild the essentials.
The 800-square-foot two-bedroom house came with basic furnishings. He planned to see if The Attic has a small chest of drawers for socks and things.
“It’s a nice place, with a beautiful backyard that overlooks a meadow,” Mauriello said.
Moving on
Mauriello hopes to have some major decisions made by the end of the month about the type of house he wants to build and a contractor lined up.
His lot has long since been cleared of debris. On Aug. 5, of the seven items El Dorado County and the state Environmental Protection Agency must sign-off on, all that were left were erosion control and county approval.
Each burned lot in the fire zone has a stake with seven items listed and whether they’ve been accomplished. The other items in order are: photo documentation, impacted area, foundation verification, removal complete and confirmation sampling.
Tree removal has started on his street, though the charred timber stood tall on his lot as of press time. They were either marked with a blue line or yellow dot. It smells even more like a campfire there than it did a month ago.
A dumpster sits in the barren dirt. It’s hard to know a home once stood there. An American flag stuck in the dirt blows in the gentle wind.
A house around the corner that was unscathed has a sign saying, “Neighbors come back.”
Mauriello intends to.
He’s been scouring the Internet for home designs. Builders have been recommended. He wants to use as many locals as possible. He would like the foundation in by Sept. 1 so framing could be done in the fall and work on the inside done through the winter.
“I’ve talked to a neighbor who said there are going to be a lot of interesting landscaping pieces,” Mauriello said. The sound board from his grand piano will be one of those items.

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