Friday, October 12, 2007

Angora --Fire victim's story

unedited oct. mt. news article:

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

By Kathryn Reed

Every Sunday, John Mauriello goes to his Mount Olympia Circle lot. It’s like visiting a cemetery. He meditates. He communes with a life he had.
“I want to get out of my life as it is right now. It’s pure hell,” he said Sept. 24.
He’s tired of the sleepless nights, of waking up in the wee hours of the mornings. The tears have stopped. The anger has taken hold.
Like all losses, the grieving process is a natural progression. He finds a sense of comfort when talking to neighbors. (He still calls them neighbors despite everyone being scattered about the area.) They know what he’s going through in a way the rest of the community will never quite be able to grasp.
“The first thing out of my mouth is ‘I hate myself, I hate my life.’ I have never done that,” Mauriello said. “I’m a fighter. I hate what I’m going through and I hate everything that is happening.”
It’s not a refrain of someone who is suicidal – though clearly a voice of depression. He is ready to move on – in the sense of finding a permanent place to call home.
A “for sale” sign is on his lot.
Mauriello is done with being beaten down by the stress of rebuilding after the Angora Fire. Frustration with jumping through hoops to start from scratch is taking its toll. He looks and feels tired.
“This is one case where everything was taken away in the course of an hour. Where we had no control over it,” the 68-year-old said. Until June 24, he thought he was set.
Mauriello had done all the math, had searched all over the South Shore for a home to retire to. He thought he was going to live the rest of his life in that modified A-frame. He has choice words for the person or people who started the illegal campfire near Seneca Pond that roared into the inferno that wiped out more than 250 homes and blackened about 3,100 acres.
”It’s an emotional roller coaster. One day I want to do this, the next day you are changing your mind,” Mauriello said in early October. “I’m hoping to sell the lot because of pure logic. Why should I pay top dollar and go through the aggravation of having a house built when I could have a nice house for less than it would cost to build a house?”

Multiple moving days

He has put an offer on a house in Christmas Valley. The catch is his lot must sell first.
Another lot on Mount Olympia had a price of $189,000; escrow is supposed to close this month. Mauriello said one sold on Pyramid for $154,000 and is back on the market for $250,000.
If he can’t buy this month, he’s still moving. The rental he’s in is too small. He wants a place big enough for a grand piano and one that will house friends who come up to ski.
“I have noting to move except a couple cases of wine, some donated clothes and a few things I bought at Costco,” Mauriello said. At most it will be two trips in his SUV. “There’s a wine rack someone gave me. I’ll leave it here. It looks good, it goes with the place.”
While he looks to buy, he looks to rent. It’s a lot of phone calls and a lot of driving around.

Insurance-money issues

Community Assisting Recovery Inc., better known as CARE, has been a great help to Mauriello and others affected by the summer catastrophe.
“I met with him (Sept. 5) to review my policy. I expected it to be a 10-minute meeting and it went on two hours,” Mauriello said of George Kehrer, who founded the nonprofit after the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. “He said, ‘Go rent a piano. They have to duplicate your living.’ I’m not living the way I’m used to living. You think the disaster of the fire was bad, then you get sucked into the insurance world. It’s horrible.”
CARE sets up shop at Lake Tahoe Community College most Saturdays so survivors can receive disaster recovery help. The website is
“(Kehrer) is giving us lessons on depreciation of inventory,” said Mauriello, who has been to the college several times. “Just because they give you a price doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It’s another bucket of worms.”
Reports are that 90 percent of the people were underinsured.
Mauriello is draining his savings because the first check for reimbursement for living expenses didn’t arrive in his post office box until Oct. 4. It included this month’s rent.
Before that he had received a check with his name on it and Wells Fargo. That’s because the bank had the mortgage. Mortgages must be paid while victims deal with insurance companies. These companies also want their lump sum before the person gets their share.
Mauriello wasn’t about to sign the whole thing over to Wells Fargo and wait days if not weeks for the bank to issue him a check. He told The Hartford to send two checks – one for the approximate remainder of the mortgage and the other for him.
“(Oct. 4) I called Wells Fargo. They hit me with about $500 in charges to pay the mortgage,” he said. “It wasn’t a prepayment penalty. I was so pissed when I spoke with him.”
The mortgage is paid. The rest is in a money market account waiting to buy his next home.

Giving back

Since the Angora relief center opened earlier this month in the old Mikasa building at the “Y”, Mauriello has been helping out a few hours a day. He calls himself a stock boy. It’s probably working out at the college gym about 85 minutes a day that makes him strong and qualified.
Volunteers are busy sorting through all the donations. A worker said as of now clothing is one thing they don’t need. Green trash bag after trash bag still needed to be inventoried in early October.
Warm clothing is being picked up for all ages.
Televisions, stereo systems, kitchen items – it’s all free to Angora survivors and only Angora survivors. People are screened to make sure they are who they say they are. Mauriello is good with this procedure.
“Until everyone gets their insurance settlements this is great people have something,” Mauriello said.
He has been putting a ton of books on the shelves – for kids and adults. Coloring books and toys are available. Most of the stuff is good quality, and what isn’t, he tries not to let out onto the floor.
New blankets and pillows are available.
“I wish it had been done a couple months ago while the momentum was there,” Mauriello said.
A sense of camaraderie has formed between Angora survivors. The community can sympathize, but only fellow survivors can empathize.
Mauriello talks about people breaking down in tears talking about their situations. He tells a story about a guy whose house burned down who had recently refinanced, which necessitated he up his insurance coverage. He says an employee at Wells Fargo thanked him for his thank you card to her congregation and tells Mauriello how the reverend read it out loud.
“We are all in it together,” Mauriello said. “I’m hurting, but believe me people are really hurting. It’s incredible how people are hurting still.”

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