unedited Dec. 07 Tahoe Mt.News story
Editor's note: This is a monthly article following one of the hundreds of people who lost their homes in the Angora Fire in summer 2007.
By Kathryn Reed
The "for sale" sign is gone. Fingers are sore. Trips to doctors are ongoing. Checks arrive unexpectedly. Another year older. Kitchen is essentially duplicated. Holiday decorations don't seem that important.
That's a snapshot of the last month of John Mauriello's life.
Mauriello is content to hold on to his Mount Olympia Circle lot until spring before he decides whether to build or sell.
"Mathematically, where the real estate market is I can buy an existing house for cheaper than rebuilding a smaller house," he said in early December. "People who are building up there don't know what it's like to live up there. There's no wildlife."
He admits the views are better. But without trees, the birds, squirrels, chipmunks and other critters aren't scurrying about like they did before the illegal campfire erupted into an out of control blaze that destroyed more than 250 homes on June 24.
Mauriello noticed the absence of wildlife almost immediately upon moving into a rental in the burn area last month. It's one of the more ominous things about being there. Coyotes -- that's all he's seen.
He worries about seeing a prefabricated house being assembled, questions if it conforms to regulations up here and wonders what it might do to property values. Then he wonders aloud if this type of house is OK, then why is the county building department making it so difficult to build from scratch?
Life goes on
On Thanksgiving weekend, the retiree turned 69. It was a low key event.
For the holiday, he had a few friends over to eat a bird and all the trimmings.
A week before Thanksgiving, this insensitive reporter asked if he'd be making any family recipes.
"They were destroyed," Mauriello said to silence on the other end of the phone. "We'll see how good my memory is. If I screw up, I have an excuse."
The best part of that weekend was Saturday when his grand piano arrived.
"When you get to my age and you stop playing for a couple months, your fingers get pretty stiff," Mauriello said two days after the Yamaha arrived.
His insurance company reimbursed him for the large expense in a matter of days. He had to show proof of purchase for the first grand. The company where he had bought it from was able to provide documentation.
Sheet music is still something he needs to acquire. Jazz and classical are what he enjoys playing the most.
For the most part his kitchen is stocked with items he had before the fire -- at least the things that could be replaced.
"Yesterday I went and bought more stuff. I still haven't scratched the surface. I bought things like throws for the furniture for the cats. Stuff I had at the other place," Mauriello said Nov. 12. "I spent the whole day buying towels, bathroom rugs. Usually things that take years to accumulate you are buying all at once. It's a pain in the ass."
Typical of so many in Tahoe, Mauriello lives in tennis shoes and hiking boots. On Dec. 3, he was out shopping. He didn’t get any shoes, but knows the flip flops are going to have to be put away for a few months.
"When you have the opportunity of starting over again, you are a little more selective of what you buy. You don't just buy something that is junk," Mauriello said.
He has a snow shovel. Replacing the snow blower will happen when there is something to blow.
He began Dec. 4 at 10 a.m. figuring out his inventory -- something that has been a burden since everything he owned was reduced to ash. Mauriello's insurance company arranged for him to meet with a third party firm to finalize his list of goods that was lost.
“He’s going to have to come back in a couple weeks,” Mauriello said that night because there is more work to be done.
Mauriello is scheduled to have an echocardiogram later this month. He takes his health seriously in that he is getting all the tests doctors recommend and doing what they say. But he is rather nonchalant when talking about it.
"I had a couple stress attacks. It's been going on for the past 25 years," he said in mid-November. "When I used to run marathons they used to give me prescribed nitroglycerin pills."
He's been cleared to go back to the gym at Lake Tahoe Community College. He is losing weight and knows shedding a few more pounds will be better for his heart.
Good and bad
Two unexpected checks arrived in November. One was for $100 from the Rotary Club. The other was for $2,000 from the Angora Fund that spawned out of the South Shore Chamber's initial fund-raising efforts.
"This came as a surprise. What is does is keeps you going until you get your paperwork (from the insurance company)," Mauriello said.
Nearly every month since the fire, Mauriello has attended a neighborhood gathering of survivors. It's open to anyone who lost a home -- owner or renter. It's at a rental home in town that easily accommodates a few dozen people.
"For me, it's more social because it seems everything that is talked about doesn't get done," Mauriello said privately at the November party. "I don't need politeness. I need someone who will say 'I'll take care of it. ' "
One of his biggest gripes with the whole cleanup was about removing the blackened trees on his lot per El Dorado County's mandate. When the county changed the policy to say tree removal would be part of the overall debris excavation project, Mauriello and others were told their insurance companies would not be reimbursed.
At the end of the insurance settlement, it means that much less for landscaping for property owners. In Mauriello's case, that amount is $3,400.
At that November get-together, county Supervisor Norma Santiago surprised everyone by telling them there is a way for compensation for tree removal. In Mauriello’s case he was billed $24,000 by the county for debris removal. His insurance policy covers $20,000. Santiago said in so many words for Mauriello to have his insurance company reimburse the county for $16,600 so then the trees are not a hit to his landscaping fund. The county will pick up the remainder through it’s arrangement with the state.
“I was pleasantly surprised the responsibility of the tree removal will be the responsibility of the county,” Mauriello said days after the meeting. “This is all verbal. I don’t have anything in writing.”
Mauriello knows of one survivor who is on his third insurance adjuster.
"They deliberately do that to slow the process down," Mauriello said.
While most of the time Mauriello is full of compliments and praise for the community, he was left with a bitter taste from Grocery Outlet last month. The owners refused to accept his check because his address is not printed on it.
He knows he will be moving again. He just doesn't know when the next move will or where to. He's tried of changing his checks. He's not going back to Grocery Outlet.
"She wouldn't even look it. She said she does the books and checks like this bounce," Mauriello said of the owner. "I wrote her a letter after the episode and I didn't get the courtesy of a response. I explained why my checks don't have an address."
Grocery Outlet owner Kim Schouten plans to respond to Mauriello’s letter. She said the check writing policy is posted at each checkout stand.
“We can’t do something for one person that we don’t do for all,” Schouten said. However, she went on to say, “He is more than welcome to come back and talk to me and we can set something up with him.”