unedited nov tahoe mt. news story
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
Boxes of All Clad cookware fill the kitchen island. A Kitchen Aid mixer is on the granite countertop. Bottle by bottle the refrigerator is stocked.
It’s Halloween. In some ways, John Mauriello is like a kid in a candy store. In other ways he exhibits signs of stress. Moving does that to a person.
He’s home – sort of. Well, he’s more at home than he has been since June 24.
“I’m tired. I’m old. I shouldn’t be doing this,” Mauriello said has he unpacked boxes.
He turns 69 on Nov. 25. He has no birthday plans. He says his life is a bit boring right now. He gives it a G-rating.
This won’t be his last move. He wants to own something – something more than a dirt lot.
Mauriello is one of the first Angora Fire survivors to move back to the burn area after having lost everything in the summer catastrophe.
“For some reason I feel I want to go back to the neighborhood. The primary reason is the bond people have is incredible,” Mauriello said Oct. 15. “This is the one case where everyone has everything in common. It’s like a magnet pulling me back.”
A few friends helped him unload his belongings Oct. 31. It was Jeff Joslyn’s house who Mauriello first evacuated to. When Gardner Mountain residents packed up, they both ended up at Gary Schank’s house in the Keys.
Mauriello’s sound board from his grand piano is the last item to be carted off the truck. It’s in the back of this 2,500-square-foot house on Snow Mountain Drive. It’s a sculpture of sorts. It’s a strong tie to what was.
“Those guys saved my butt,” Mauriello said of Joslyn, Schank and Mark Anthenien, who was not there on moving day. “I was an emotional basket case.”
His best friend, Robert Stiles, has moved out here from Texas. His is another shoulder for Mauriello to lean on as the 68-year-old figures out where he goes from here.
A new reality
“You asked me does it feel like home. I had to think about it. My response is it’s a beautiful place, a nice place to hang your hat,” Mauriello said Nov. 5. “But home to me is yours, you own it. This place is better than mine that burned down, but it’s not home.”
It was probably always going to be impossible for Mauriello to forget about life before the illegal campfire erupted into a 3,100-plus acre blaze that took more than 250 houses. Now it will be even more difficult.
Clanging hammers, the dut-dut-dut of nail guns, excavators moving dirt, contractors framing, 18-wheelers coming and going – his neighborhood is a construction zone. Houses throughout the area are in various stages of rising from the ashes.
From his deck, Echo Point punctuates the blue sky that is dotted with puffy white clouds. Angora Ridge is a stark reminder of the devastation. Charred tree stumps dot the landscape.
Across the street is a National Forest lot with the bulk of the trees still erect. Even though a few are singed, the plot looks out of place when most all the other pines have been razed.
Mauriello is on a bit of a spending spree. His bedroom set arrives this month. Ideally, a grand piano will as well. Earlier this month he was negotiating with the people he’d bought his first one from.
He’s the type of guy who wants the best deal even though the insurance company will reimburse him. He says he’s spending money like it’s his, not someone else’s.
The first week of November he was tracked down at Lowe’s looking for throw rugs to put in front of the gas fireplace and for the front entry.
He rescinded his offer on the Christmas Valley house, but still has his lot on the market. If the contract runs out with the listing agent before it sells, he doesn’t know what he’ll do.
“I was at my lot (on Mount Olympic Circle). It wasn’t bad with those trees cut down. The views are spectacular,” Mauriello said last month. “You could see Heavenly, Spooner Summit, Twin Peaks.”
With the blackened conifers hauled away, the neighborhood looks different, even better than right after the fire. That plays into Mauriello’s indecision.
Financially, to buy a place he would be happy to call home, the retiree needs to sell the lot. Even though the thought of rebuilding has been overwhelming at times and led him to list the property, he is not 100 percent sure he wants to let it go.
Time. He’s counting on it to provide answers.
He went before the county Board of Supervisors when they met at Lake Tahoe Community College last month. Mauriello didn’t use his full three minutes to express his frustration with having his insurance company pay to remove his trees before the county decided to do it throughout the region.
In the corridor beyond the ears of the supervisors, another Angora survivor told Mauriello how she had done the same thing. They both had wanted to do the right thing and in turn feel screwed.
It means just that much less cash for them to use for landscaping if and when they rebuild.
For now, Mauriello is content to settle into the house that barely got touched by the fire, to begin rebuilding in other ways. Despite the many unknowns that lay before him, Mauriello knows he has plenty of things to be thankful for this season.