Tahoe residents rebuild homes after fires

May 27, 2008 7:25:45 PM PDT
The process of rebuilding the Tahoe community that was destroyed last year is moving full speed.

Local officials say it's happening at a record pace for a disaster of this scale.

Last June 24th, the Angora Fire started just a few hundred yards from Stan Freeman's house.

"I went out on to the back deck and I saw the smoke coming over the top of my house," said Freeman.

Stan and his family got out safely, but the house burned to the ground. The only thing left was some old family silver.

"This is what we ended up with here, which was the charred remains," said Freeman.

The fire destroyed more than 250 homes. Like many, the Freemans had no where to go. But help came fast.

"Right after the fire, I was offered a home by a Bay Area family who had a second home up here that I don't even know," said Freeman.

The community also came through with clothes and supplies for the fire victims. Stan's 15-year-old son was stunned.

"It made me feel like I belonged here, you know," said Stan's son Emmet Freeman.

The Freemans knew they had to stay.

"My goal right from the get go was to get back in here as quickly as possible. So that my family could get back to some semblance of normalcy," said Freeman.

Six weeks after the fire, a crew started work on Stan's foundation. Nine months later, Stan and his family became the first of the fire victims to move into their new home.

"It's fantastic. I'm absolutely delighted to be back," said Freeman.

One reason the Freemans got in so fast is their house was only two-years-old. They still had the original plans and an open building permit.

The new house is almost exactly the same as the old one, but the view out the window has changed.

For now, the neighborhood is lonelier. It's surrounded by a burned forest and there are still more empty lots than construction sites.

But pretty soon, more families will be moving in. Seventy-one houses are already being built and permits have been issued for over 70 more.

Still, not everyone is coming back and some residents have hit roadblocks that they didn't expect, especially with insurance.

"Probably at least half the people I talked to since the fire found they didn't have the replacement cost value of their homes," said homeowner Bob Spees.

ABC7 News first met Spees last summer a few weeks after his house burned. He was also determined to rebuild, but the process took longer than he expected.

"It wasn't as streamlined as we had hoped," said Spees.

Bob's foundation is finally going in, but he estimates his insurance will be more than $100,000 short of the cost of rebuilding.

He's going ahead anyway because he can't stand the thought of leaving his neighbors.

"It's just been overwhelming, we couldn't live in a better community," said Spees.

The future of the neighborhood will also be determined by THE U.S. Forest Service, which owns about 80 percent of the burned land.

Officials held a meeting to get input from residents.

Residents offered suggestions about everything from how many dead trees to cut to where to put trails in the devastated forest.

And in a strange turn of events, the meeting just happened to be the same day last week that the Santa Cruz fire broke out, destroying about 36 homes.

"I don't think there's a person in this room that lost their home that doesn't feel for those other people. And we just got to keep getting the message out that there is life after that," said homeowner Paula Lambdin.

For the Freeman family that life after the fire is already beginning, and they want others to share it.

"Please come back to the area. It's going to be great in a few years. And I want you back here and I want my neighbors back I love my neighbors," said Freeman.

The Freemans should be getting at least few neighbors soon.

They're not on the same street, but several residents a few blocks away told us they expect to move in a couple of weeks.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.


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