This morning’s Mercury News has a couple nice stories exploring the contrasts among those whose homes were destroyed in 2008 wildfires. Those hit by the Trabing Fire in Larkin Valley near Santa Cruz are getting their households back together.
Tough, verdant grasses are helping to heal scarred hillsides. Doves and great horned owls are returning to their old haunts. And members of the Teague family, known by their neighbors in this gentle valley northwest of Watsonville for their elaborate Christmas displays, have strung red, blue, orange and green lights.
This Christmas, however, the lights grace a couple of old RVs parked where the Teagues’ ranch-style house stood before a raging wildfire in June destroyed it along with 25 other homes.
“Our lives were vaporized within minutes,” said Tom Teague, an electrical engineer whose family lost a pet cat and virtually everything it owned.
For the Teagues and two other neighbors on the same side of the valley, the terrible fire was only the beginning of a transformational trauma that has included every emotion, from grief to anger to an unexpected sense of peace.
Through it all, the Teagues, the family of Diana Weatherholt and the husband-and-wife veterinary team of George McKay and Gwen DeBaere have discovered new friends and inner strengths on their journeys to rebuild. The families have also come to treasure what the Trabing fire could not destroy.
Things are altogether different for a bunch of folks who built homes without the proper permits on land they owned in the Santa Cruz mountains. When the Summit Fire hit, many lost everything and had no insurance on their homes. Santa Cruz County bureaucrats are in no hurry to help, and many are just plain out of luck.
The Summit fire not only destroyed the homes of the residents of Maymens Flat, but it exposed these rugged individualists to the very things they went into the mountains to avoid: inspectors, permits, surveys, reports, hearings and lawyers.
While victims of Santa Cruz County’s other two major fires are slowly rebuilding, these ridge dwellers are no longer welcome to live on their own land. Now, they must decide whether to break the law and stay — or move away and give up this life of isolated beauty.
Ian McClelland isn’t going anywhere. “Really, we just want to be left alone,” said McClelland, a systems engineering manager at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale. “For the first time in the 20 years I’ve lived here, I’m getting a fence and a locked gate.”
He and his neighbors say it isn’t Mother Nature that makes them nervous — it’s county inspectors.
Every burned home along this isolated ridgeline was built without permits, as were half of the 63 homes consumed by the Summit blaze in the spring. These Maymens Flat residents constructed their houses with their own hands, at the end of a long private dirt road, many miles from most county services — and inspectors. None of them had insurance.
Maybe the story will put a fire under the bureaucrats to find some wiggle room in the regs to let people rebuild on their land. They can argue that these folks should’ve gone through channels and firefighters’ lives are at stake and everything, but the homes would’ve burned either way. It’s not like a raging inferno cares whether the paperwork’s all in order.