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October 13, 2013
Stucco: Recovery Efforts

On Highway 26, theyíve begun to cut down and remove trees that were damaged by the Butte fire

On Thursday, October 8, Gail drove up to our mountain home to do some more work after the recent Butte Fire. (Russell had to stay home and work.)

Gail loaded the van with a rug and an air hockey table. Her hope was to donate these used goods to the fire donation center, so they make some money reselling the stuff. The good news was that the center was not accepting any more donations, due to the generosity of others. The bad news was that Gail still had a van full of stuff.

Gail had several other goals for this trip. Her first goal was to meet with several parties regarding the fire damage to our property. So on Friday, October 9, she spent the day driving a half-hour north to Jackson and a half-hour south to San Andreas. Some of the various parties she contacted (or needs to contact) include:

FEMA has set up a temporary office at the intersection of Highways 49 and 26, outside of Mokelumne Hill

The general takeaway from her many meetings is that we are not likely to qualify for any disaster relief funds, because the mountain home is not our primary residence. Also, we cannot clean up the debris from the burned-up shed by ourselves. We had a solar panel and a gasoline can in the shed, so the debris is considered hazardous waste. The Environmental Health Department will have come over and clean it up.

The good news is that after more than 10 years of effort, our mountain property is insured. We had contacted multiple insurers over the years, but they all declined because our property is in a high fire zone. After a decade of unsuccessful attempts, we had actually given up. Then, when we were refinancing our house earlier this year, our financing guy recommended a friend who is in insurance agent for AAA. He was able to find someone who would underwrite a policy for us.

So our mountain property is insured by Lloyds of London, of all people. We donít know if it is good news or bad news that we are filing a claim only months after getting insured, but it is certainly a good return on investment. It looks like we can get compensated for the shed, our perimeter fencing (which is pretty much gone) and tree removal/replacement.

This is what is left of our barbed-wire-and-post perimeter fencing

So Gailís second goal this trip was to assess and put a value on all of the dead trees on the property. On Friday afternoon she met with Josh from West Point Noble tree service. Josh estimated a cost of about $300 to $500 per tree to drop (cut down) and process (chip). On the southwest (shed) knoll and western slope alone, Gail counted 10 oaks and 32 ponderosa pines that need to come down. Thatís already $15,000-$20,000, and thatís less than one acre of our 50-acre parcel. This could get expensive.

(Gail also plans to schedule a meeting with an arborist. While Joshís company only removes trees, an arborist could tell us which trees are most likely to survive and which ones are not worth saving.)

We have a lot of fire-damaged trees. We need to determine whether they are worth saving or not, before they possibly fall down when the rainy season starts.

Gail learned that there are two types of fire damage: black ash and white ash. Black ash, which surrounds our home site and the nearby knolls, means that the fire did not burn too hot and should recover. White ash, which is widespread on the south side of our property, means that the fire was intensely hot. Even bacteria in the soil were destroyed, so it will take much longer for anything to grow back in these areas.

(Left) Black ash, where things will hopefully grow back soon
(Right) white ash, which may take many, many years to recover

Gailís third goal this trip was to help with disaster relief herself. On Saturday, she spent the day working with Samaritanís Purse, a Christian non-profit that helps victims of disasters. The volunteers worked at devastated home sites in Mountain Ranch (one of the hardest hit areas), sifting ashes to find any items of value. Gail had to work in 90-degree heat while being completely covered in a Tyvek ďbunnyĒ suit. She worked at three home sites and heard some heartbreaking stories.

The Samaritanís Purse truck
The recovery team that Gail worked with (Gail is in the back, fourth from the right)

Gail in her Tyvek ďbunnyĒ suit

Among the three homeowners, one plans to rebuild. The second will hold onto the property but not rebuild. The third plans to sell and move to another state.

Gail considered working with Samaritanís Purse for a second day, but ultimately decided against it, given the physical and emotional strain.

The first of three home sites where Gail worked

On Sunday, our friend Steve came up for a quick overnight. He has been very anxious to see the property post-fire, and this was his first opportunity. He spent his short time here outside (as usual) clearing brush (as usual). He started a burn pile on the shed knoll, where we will ultimately have to drop most of the trees. Gail herself made about 40 trips up and down the western slope, dragging heavy manzanita branches that had been cut by the firefighters.

As far as the contents of our van, Steve took the air hockey table to donate to his church. Gail put the rug in our mountain home.

Our downstairs living room now has a rug on top of the OSB subfloor

Gail received some additional distressing news on this trip: she saw a mouse in the house. This is the first vermin we have had since we had the entire house covered in stucco. Just one more thing to worry about, as we try to get things back in order after the fire.

On Monday evening, Gail was treated to a fox! It came all the way up to the window and peeked in. By the time Gail grabbed her camera, it was already running off.


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