Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Angora -- February update

written for but didn't run in feb. tahoe mt. news:

By Kathryn Reed

Keeping the area safe from another fire that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and suppression will be the focus for months and years to come.
Money from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (proceeds from the sale of federal land around Las Vegas are doled out in the form of grants) is funding millions of dollars worth of defensible space projects throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin. Grants from California are also being sought.
The Nevada Fire Safe Council is opening an office in the Tahoe Keys this month. Despite its name, the nonprofit council works on both sides of the state line.
Lake Valley is the next region to undergo a major push to develop neighborhood fire safe chapters. Tahoe-Douglas has more than a dozen and Incline Village has several.
“What we are looking to do is to encourage and inform people about what they can do to get defensible space done in their neighborhood and get neighbors involved,” explained Jessica Moore-Mahnken of the fire safe council.
Meetings on March 3, 4 and 8 at the Lake Valley Fire Department’s Meyers’ station are designed to inform people about fire safe chapters, and get them up and running. The weekday meetings begin at 6 p.m. and the Saturday event is at 10 a.m. Each will be about an hour depending on the number of questions.
The Nevada Council also plans to join with Tahoe Resource Conservation District (the agency which oversees residential best management practices on the California side) to demonstrate defensible space. They will likely be Saturdays once the snow melts.
The point of defensible space is to clear flammable debris from property. It’s also a state law. Some counties in California have abatement laws where if the property owner doesn’t do the work, the county will. The homeowner is billed. If it’s not paid, a lien can be put on the house. This is not a route Moore-Mahnken said the council wants to pursue.
The rules are that between zero and 5 feet from a house nothing combustible can be there – including wood piles and pine needles. Area fire agencies and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency are still discussing the pine needle-wood chip issue because TRPA likes to use them for erosion control purposes.
“The whole premise behind defensible space is if I were to walk around your property with a lit match, what would happen?” Moore-Mahnken said. “We saw in Angora embers were laying down in neighbor’s yard – softball size. If this ball of fire hit my property, what would it do? What is it landing on? Irrigated flower beds where it would fizzle out? Cedar siding or noncombustible siding? Pine needs in the gutters?”
Between 5 and 30 feet, it’s important to rid property of ladder fuels. That could a bush that leads to a low hanging branch, thus producing a ladder of fire. Vertical and horizontal thinning is necessary.
From 30 to 100 feet from the house, dead vegetation needs to be removed. A 6-foot clearance from tree limbs to the ground should exist.
Moore-Mahnken admits wood piles and decks can present difficult situations. She says to cover wood piles with fire resistant tarps, keep only the wood you need during the winter close by so when it warms up and the outdoor fire season begins the pile is gone.
Decks should not have pine needles under them or other flammable material.
“A lot of defensible space is general landscaping,” Moore-Mahnken said.
The council is taking a look at the U.S. Forest Service’s 10-year plan for fuels reduction in terms of high-threat areas. From there, the council wants to work with neighbors who will work together.
For more information, go to www.nvfsc.org.

Investigation still alive

Investigators are not giving up hope of finding the person or persons responsible for inadequately dousing the illegal campfire that hours later became the catastrophe known as the Angora Fire.
Even though Feb. 24 will mark eight months since the blaze ripped through the middle class neighborhood off Lake Tahoe Boulevard on the outskirts of the city limits and took with it 256 homes and charred 3,100 acres, no one has been arrested.
Donna Deaton, special agent with the U.S. Forest Service, is working jointly with the El Dorado County District Attorneys Office to track down the culprit.
“It’s still an open investigation,” Deaton said. “Generally with investigations we follow-up all leads and if a determination can’t be made of the person or persons responsible, we may close the case. But if in the future we get additional information, we would reopen the case.”
Beyond that she was mum. She wouldn’t say what, if any, new leads have surfaced since last summer. Nor does she have a time line as to when investigators would consider the case closed even without a suspect in custody.

Burn area reopens

The Angora burn area is open to the public. But it may be short-lived.
The January storms brought enough snow to protect the area for now. When the spring melt begins, the Forest Service will revisit the issue to determine if limiting access for erosion concerns will be necessary.
The agency asks people to not tread on bare soil. When in the backcountry or steep areas of the burn area, be aware of avalanche conditions.

County assessing needs

For the fifth time on Feb. 5, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors discussed the idea of creating the Angora Reconstruction/Reconstruction Center (ARRC). In what Supervisor Norma Santiago considers a birthday gift, they approved it.
“Plans include a ‘project manager’ who will be acting as a liaison between the property owner or his/her agent (architect, contractor, etc) and the various agencies involved in the construction of a home (STPUD, TRPA, Fire Department, etc.) as well as additional staff dedicated only to working on this project,” Santiago wrote the Tahoe Mountain News before the meeting. “Having the ARRC would help with customer service, streamline processes, alleviate stress for all sides, and gives us an opportunity to test efficient operational concepts that could be utilized throughout the county.”
It’s possible “Norma’s ARRC” would be located in the El Dorado County center. Funding could come via the California Disaster Assistance Act.
At the end of 2007, 153 residents were in various stages of rebuilding. Santiago said more than 90 percent are building more than what was lost – from adding decks to adding another story.

State fines bad guys

A Southern California company found out the hard way that messing with victims of the Angora Fire would burn them. Three men have been fined for posing as insurance adjusters.
Public insurance adjusters are hired by the homeowner to negotiate directly with the insurance company in exchange for a percentage of the settlement. They must be licensed by the state.
State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner last month levied a $200,000 fine against Paramount Disaster Recovery Inc. CEO Steve Slepcevic, 39, of Palos Verdes, Matthew Todd, 48, of Redondo Beach, and Charlie R. Rose (aka Reed Lostman), 43, also of Redondo Beach. They must also pay the state $75,000 for attorney fees and not operate as unlicensed insurance claims adjusters in California.
Paramount, Slepcevic, Todd and Rose on Aug. 2 received a cease-and-desist order. The state agency said Todd and Rose, on behalf of Paramount, were securing insurance jobs from Angora Fire survivors.
“I am pleased that we could take these unscrupulous characters out of the post-disaster marketplace,” Poizner said in a press release. “Working as an unlicensed public insurance adjuster victimizes fire survivors twice and is, frankly, unfair to reputable public insurance adjusters.”

Fire commission news

The bi-state fire commission that is looking into what the basin should do about fuel reduction and other fire related issues is running out of time to offer recommendations to both governors by the March 21 deadline.
The schedule of meetings can be found at:


Anonymous said...


CA Insurance Commissioner Poizner Violates Agreement and Misrepresent Facts in Recent Press Release

January 21, 2008, PALOS VERDES, CA - California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner recently issued a press release regarding a Palos Verdes-based general contractor that contained gross misstatements of fact which arguably violate an agreement between the two. Paramount Disaster Recovery, Inc. reached an agreement with the Department of Insurance over allegations that Paramount was acting in a capacity for which a license was required and in connection with another action that Paramount had filed against Poizner. Paramount maintained, then and now, that it was acting within the purview of its license as a general contractor when it prepared a detailed analysis of fire and smoke damage for its clients and had never acted as a public adjuster in South Lake Tahoe.

Paramount settled the matters it had with the Department of Insurance purely as a business decision whereas Poizner’s press release makes it appear that an illegal act was committed and justice was served. Poizner’s press release contains unproved allegations passed off as true facts. The reality is that the agreement reached with Paramount and its representatives occurred prior to any judge hearing any evidence (including witness testimony) and was specifically premised on there being no admission of guilt or liability. Simply stated, there is no competent evidence and no legal finding or judgment that Paramount or its representatives committed any illegal act. “If we were told then that Poizner would misrepresent the facts, we would have instructed our attorneys to fight this all the way and there is no way we would have agreed to put an end to these matters,” said Steve Slepcevic, the president and CEO of Paramount. “We entered into the agreement believing that we were buying peace and that the matters would be resolved, but instead, Paramount is maliciously being portrayed by Poizner as ‘unscrupulous’ yet without any facts established as true.”

Paramount Disaster Recovery, Inc. is a licensed general contractor that has focused its construction business on restoring and reconstructing homes and businesses after a flood, fire, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, etc. The Department of Insurance took action against Paramount Disaster Recovery, Inc. following a complaint made by an insurance company adjuster whom Paramount had exposed for attempting to underestimate two claims. Two of Paramount’s clients had sustained damage in the Angora fire in South Lake Tahoe in 2007 and both were insured by CSAA. The adjuster employed by CSAA visited each property and prepared an estimate of the restoration costs for each residence. Paramount was able to demonstrate to its clients that the insurance company adjuster was paying less than 30% of what Paramount believed was required by a licensed general contractor to fully restore each residence.

Paramount’s representatives believed that the insurance company adjuster was taking advantage of the clients at a time when they were extremely vulnerable and looking for help. Paramount’s representatives quickly came to the defense of the clients, who had just experienced nearly a week of panic as firefighters labored to save as many structures as possible. Paramount’s representative chided the insurance company adjuster for low-balling the clients and suggested that the clients demand that CSAA retain a licensed general contractor to adequately and accurately assess the damage to each residence. The insurance company adjuster, instead of complying immediately with the request, complained to the Department of Insurance that Paramount was acting as a public adjuster. The Department of Insurance issued a cease and desist order based almost entirely on the statements made by the insurance company adjuster.

As a licensed general contractor, Paramount Disaster Recovery, Inc. is regulated by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) through a distinct part of California law relating to the construction industry. The cease and desist order was filed by the Department of Insurance under a part of California law reserved to those in the insurance industry. In a separate but related action, Paramount sued Commissioner Poizner in Sacramento Superior Court challenging the authority of the Department of Insurance to regulate the actions of a general contractor. In that action (which personally named Poizner), every consumer with whom Paramount had contact following the Angora fire signed sworn declarations that were filed with the court attesting to the fact that Paramount, at all times, held itself out as a general contractor and not as a public adjuster; that Paramount, at all times, performed work as a general contractor and not as a public adjuster; and that the documents that were signed clearly stated that Paramount was performing work as a general contractor and not as a public adjuster. In fact, although the Department of Insurance touts itself as “the largest consumer protection agency in the state,” not one consumer in South Lake Tahoe filed a complaint with the Department of Insurance. The cease and desist order followed a complaint from an insurance company adjuster suspected of low-balling the extent of the damage to the clients’ property.

In most wide-area disasters, insured property owners deal with insurance company adjusters whose main concern is looking out for the interest of their employer, not the insured. Immediately following a wide-area disaster, victims are more susceptible to the low-balling of claims by insurance company adjusters. “It’s obvious from the increasing numbers of news reports and lawsuits that many homeowners believe that they have been low-balled by insurers who seemingly are immune from state or federal prosecution, and insurance companies have the motivation to keep it that way,” said Slepcevic. He explained that a competent, reliable general contractor cannot restore or reconstruct a damaged structure for the amount the client often receives from his or her insurance company, requiring the client to make up the difference from other resources, including the use of life savings and/or taking out loans.

Paramount Disaster Recovery, Inc. insisted that its clients in South Lake Tahoe acquire all the information needed in deciding how best to restore their homes. If Paramount or its representatives discover damage to a structure attributable to the event (in this case the Angora fire), then they are contractually bound to disclose such information to the client. The insurance company adjuster, on the other hand, is under no such duty. While the clients’ obvious damage was acknowledged by CSAA, the latent and equally dangerous and unhealthy smoke damage was being ignored. Paramount, keeping the interest of its clients as the dominant factor, protested that the insurance company adjuster, unlicensed as a contractor, was attempting to foist an unreasonably low estimate on the clients. While the client was free to accept the insurance company adjuster’s incomplete and unreasonably low estimate, Paramount felt obligated to make sure its clients had all the information necessary to make an informed decision.

Throughout both court actions with Poizner and the Department, Paramount contended that the California Business & Professions Code requires any construction work in excess of $500 to be performed only by a licensed general contractor. Moreover, the law states that a contractor may offer to undertake to submit a bid to construct or repair any building or structure or do any part thereof. General contractors are permitted under the law to superintend the whole construction project or any part thereof. The work being performed for the clients was part of the restoration work that Paramount had promised to perform for its clients. The Department of Insurance took the position that simply because the construction work existed and arose from an insurance “claim,” Paramount’s actions in submitting a bid for the restoration constituted assistance in the settlement of a claim. Paramount and its representatives denied that they were involved in the settlement of any claim and have questioned the constitutionality of the Department’s enforcement of one statute under the California Insurance Code when the same acts are authorized under the California Business & Professions Code and the CSLB.

Although Paramount and its representatives were virtually assured of prevailing on the issues once a judge was presented with evidence and took testimony from Paramount’s clients, Paramount and its representatives were keenly aware of the time, energy and resources needed to confront the Department of Insurance on both fronts. Paramount agreed at the last minute, and on very favorable terms, to resolve these matters only after conducting a detailed analysis of the expected litigation costs and related expenses for both actions. Paramount elected to purchase peace from the litigation by settling the actions with the Department of Insurance in order to focus on its business, free from the distraction of court hearings.

Some politicians often rely upon “spin” and creatively portray allegations as facts in an effort to persuade their constituents that the public interest is being served. In much the same way, Poizner’s press release misrepresents the facts and creates the illusion that some illegal acts occurred which further “victimized” those who suffered fire damage in South Lake Tahoe. “Interestingly, [Poizner’s] press release fails to identify who was ‘victimized’ or how it occurred,” Slepcevic stated. Poizner’s press release states that the settlement reached with Paramount is evidence that illegal conduct took place. However, “it is well-documented that the attorneys for the Department of Insurance were the first to suggest that the agreement would not constitute an admission of liability,” explained Slepcevic. Indeed, Poizner’s press release contains not one expression of gratitude from any “victimized” consumer whose rights were purportedly vindicated. The Paramount-related parties involved in the cases point out that Poizner’s press release erroneously states that Paramount “negotiated settlements” on behalf of its clients. Even the Department’s own lawyers would presumably be unable to support Poizner’s press release since CSAA took no action to settle the clients’ claims prior to the issuance of the order.

According to sworn declarations filed in Paramount’s litigation against Poizner, the Tahoe homeowners testified that they entered into contracts with Paramount as a general contractor not a public adjuster despite Poizner stating the contrary in the press release. There is no evidence that Paramount or its representatives offered any client its services, for compensation, to act on behalf of or aid in any manner, an insured in negotiating for a settlement of a claim for loss or damage under any policy of insurance covering real or personal property. There is no evidence that the Paramount’s representatives advertised, solicited business, or held themselves out to the public as an adjuster of those claims. In fact, Poizner’s press release fails to detail how or in what manner the consumers in California have benefited from the action taken against Paramount or why the press release was justified now, especially when the agreement was reached a month ago.

The effect of the erroneous press release on the agreement itself is still being analyzed by the company and its representatives. However, the individuals named by Poizner in the cease and desist order have been considering the impact of the press release on the original agreement. “If I had known early on that Poizner would resort to mudslinging and trial-by-media, I would have moved forward with a full-blown hearing to clear myself of any inkling of impropriety in connection with the matters set forth in the cease and desist order,” said Matthew Todd, Paramount’s vice president. “This conduct offends any and every notion of due process and equal protection by a politician who is seeking re-election in 2010 but who has already sworn to uphold the Constitution.” He went on further to state that “the inaccurate facts contained in the press release completely frustrate the purpose for the agreement in the first place” but declined to disclose whether Poizner’s actions in disseminating the erroneous information meant that additional litigation would be filed.


Since 1989, Paramount Disaster Recovery, Inc. has been assisting property and business owners nationwide in restoring and reconstructing after a specific or wide-area disaster. If you would like more information about this situation, or to schedule an interview with Steve Slepcevic, please call 310.265.8846. Visit our website at www.paramountinc.com.

Anonymous said...

What Lies Beneath - Once the Smoke Clears
Wildfire Victims are Left with Contaminated Properties
Recent testing of structures and land reveals hidden dangers to property owners months after wildfires are extinguished. Southern California residents may still be exposed to dangerous toxins by living and working in buildings contaminated with a hidden intruder.
The 2007 California wildfires caused billions of dollars in damage and thousands of families and business owners to rebuild their lives. For weeks while the fires scorched areas from South Lake Tahoe to the Mexico border, California residents endured an atmosphere filled with smoke and watched as cars, lawns and window sills became home to annoying and potentially toxic ash and soot. Even those who did not live in the immediate burn areas felt the fury of the fires with dismal skies and ash covered properties.
“What people may not be aware of are the dangerous levels of carcinogens, cyanide and other harmful toxins in the soot that settled in these structures,” reported Steve Slepcevic, CEO and owner of Paramount Disaster Recovery Inc. “Just because you don’t smell smoke does not mean your home isn’t contaminated,” continued Slepcevic. Homes are not the only structures affected - schools, daycare centers, churches, hospitals - all buildings exposed to the wind driven smoke and ash are at risk.

Paramount Disaster Recovery Inc. provides expert services that include inspecting, cleaning and restoring damaged structures. Slepcevic and his team have examined several properties statewide that tested positive for dangerous levels of toxins hidden in places that many people never thought about until now.
Smoke is made up of particles, liquids and gaseous compounds that may not be possible to see with the naked eye. Wildfires produce tons of particulate matter per minute that seeps into structures - even with closed windows and doors. These toxic specks can be found settling in landscaping, running through rain gutters, buried in carpets and gathering on bookshelves. More shocking are the attics, siding panels, indoor and outdoor insulation, ventilation systems, heating and air-conditioning units, electronics, appliances, mattresses, pillows, couches and even clothing where harmful particulate matter is very commonly found. “Every time a contaminated television, heater or refrigerator is running or a bed is slept on particulate matter is re-entrained into the air that we breathe,” stated Slepcevic.
Health hazards that are faced when exposed to particulate matter include aggravated asthma, respiratory symptoms, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function – (especially in children), lung cancer and premature deaths. This potentially deadly airborne substance enters the body and makes its way into the lungs where it can do its worst damage. Particulate matter related deaths are reported to be comparable to those caused by traffic accidents.
“It’s been nearly 8 months and we still can’t live in our home,” stated Susan Abrams, South Lake Tahoe resident and wildfire victim. Abrams’ home suffered severe smoke damage and much to her dismay, she has hit major roadblocks in the recovery process when dealing with her insurance company. Furthermore, Abrams’ doctors have instructed the 30 year resident to stay away from her contaminated home due to her history of health problems. Doctors believe the levels of particulate matter found inside and around her home could be fatal. “I worry about others who remain in their homes - they shouldn’t be living there,” says Abrams. Remediating Abrams’ from the harmful particulates is a process performed by Paramount Disaster Recovery Inc., in an effort to restore the property to an acceptable condition.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has guidelines in place pertaining to proper clean-up procedures including pressure-washing outdoor surfaces, laundering items and completing a thorough cleaning of everything inside the building. Decontaminating an area that has been exposed to particulate matter may also include removing and replacing furniture, insulation, carpeting and filters. Additionally, the property needs to be professionally tended to by experts in demolition, waste removal and construction. Most important, it is imperative that the clean-up process takes place as soon as possible to avoid further contamination through winds, rain and other means of disturbing any particulate matter.
“People need to understand that they are facing potentially serious health problems and environmentally unsafe conditions if these smoke damaged properties are not remedied promptly,” reported Slepcevic.