A home damaged by the Auburn Fire (CPR photo/Ben Adler)
Today, we bring you the first of two reports on what property owners and government officials can learn from the 2007 Angora Fire. That blaze burned 250 homes near South Lake Tahoe. Our “Angora Advice” series begins with tips from homeowners.
The advice from homeowners pretty much falls into two categories: the technical advice – we’ll get to that in a moment – and the emotional advice.
Ward-Hudson: “I would just tell them, hang in there. It really does get better.”
Inglis: “Life goes on.”
Lambdin: “It’s going to be okay.”
Marsha Ward-Hudson, Randy Inglis and Paula Lambdin lost their homes in June of 2007. Today, they all live in new homes – right where their old ones used to stand. And they all echo what Inglis says: Get ready for an emotional roller-coaster.
Inglis: “One day, things are going fine, the next day your wife starts breaking down and crying for no reason. When we moved into our rental house, our daughter – she just hated it from day one. Understandably, it wasn’t her house, it wasn’t her stuff.”
But there are bright spots, the homeowners say – especially when it comes to offers of help. Some Auburn property owners told Capital Public Radio last week that they were already getting offered everything from clothes to a place to stay. Paula Lambdin says it’s okay to say yes.
Lambdin: “If people reach out and want to help, let them. That’s a really difficult thing for a lot of people to do, but people will want to help, so allow that to happen.”
Of course, some offers of help are more honest than others. Lambdin says watch out for anyone looking to make a quick buck – and don’t be afraid to ask for credentials.
Lambdin: “People with compassion and understanding will leave you alone. If they push, you know they’ve got a different motive behind it.”
Another hurdle: insurance companies. Angora homeowners say some are better than others. Keep records on everything, they say, and be very careful about what you report as destroyed. Lambdin had a lot of trouble with her insurance. Marsha Ward-Hudson had a far easier time – because she hired a public adjuster. That’s someone who negotiates with insurance companies on behalf of the property owner.
Ward-Hudson: “The money that we had to pay them was well worth it. We actually got a bigger settlement than if we’d fought them ourselves.”
The homeowners say the best way to deal with these and all the other headaches is to talk about them – a lot. One Angora neighborhood held monthly community meetings so everyone could keep in touch – even as they remained scattered and homeless. Ward-Hudson says staying in the loop is crucial.
Ward-Hudson: “You’ve gotta understand what’s going on. If you isolate yourself, it just creates a lot more headache. And it’s a lot more emotional, too, because it’s like a support group. Everybody’s there, everybody’s talking to each other and sharing.”
And then, there’s the most basic question of all: to rebuild or not to rebuild? El Dorado County statistics show the majority of Angora homeowners decided to stay put. But whatever you do, Randy Inglis says, don’t rush it.
Inglis: “We saw some of our neighbors, they jumped too fast, they kind of got taken by – I don’t wanna say shady contractors, but it seems like some of the contractors did take advantage of the situation. So step back and figure out what you want to do before you jump.”
In the end, the homeowners say, every case is different. But, they say, expect the journey from rubble to housewarming to take between one and two years.