Alone: Living in a ghost neighborhood after Angora
Although he must wait a few more weeks before he’s able to move back into his Snow Mountain Drive home, Steve Kurek knows things will be different.
The home sits among acres of rubble, charred trees and blackened earth from the Angora fire. It survived because of its fire-proof materials and defensible space.
From relief to guilt, a mix of emotions has pummeled those whose homes survived last month’s firestorm. Yet they also expect it to be eerie when they return, such as Dorothy perhaps felt when she stepped out of her tornado-tossed house into the land of Oz.
“Winter’s going to be ghostly quiet,” Kurek said. “I mean we’re not going to be hearing any snowblowers except my own.”
Several officials have pushed for rebuilding to begin by fall. Kurek has little faith in that timeline.
“It’s going to be grim,” he said. “It’s just going to be very quiet and dirty.”
He will have his wife, Linda, but Steve said he will miss his neighborhood friends.
“I’m not looking forward to being alone,” he said.
Randy Peshon and his family must wait a couple of months until officials clear smoke damage, and they can return to their Pyramid Circle home. Throw a stone from any point of the Peshon house, and it will hit debris.
“It’s going to be real different … you open the door and it’s like ‘whoa,'” he said.
Susan Braun moved back into her Clear View Drive residence last week but only reopened her home business Mountain View Child Care on Wednesday.
She said the first few days back at her house, which she shares with her husband and two teenage sons, were sad, lonely and quiet.
The nights are darker. The sights are sickening.
“I get a sick feeling every night when I look out,” she said.
The children under Braun’s care were curious about the fire’s effects: Was the orange slide in Braun’s front yard unscathed? What about the sunflowers they recently planted – the ones with the popsicle sticks with each child’s name near the stalks?
Braun said parents didn’t significantly hesitate returning their children to the center. Once the area was open to the public earlier this month, parents drove by Braun’s undamaged home so the children could see it for themselves, Braun said. As for the children, Braun remarked they were “really happy” to be back.
“I think you can’t hide it from the kids,” she said.
Braun said she made numerous calls to El Dorado County officials to ensure air quality and other concerns had been calmed.
At the center on Wednesday, two children pretended to make rock soup and sell the fare to an adult who used other rocks as currency. Although three burned lots were right across the street and in their line of vision, the children seemed not to notice.
As summer winds down, more challenges await Angora fire survivors.
The holiday season, for example, could be tough, but Kurek believes Christmas will be good. Halloween will be different, though, since before the fire a smattering of costumed children prowled the streets for treats in Peshon and Kurek’s neighborhood.
“We’ll probably put up our Christmas lights even though nobody will see them,” Peshon said.
The loss of trees struck both men. Kurek, who lives in Mountain View Estates, guessed the name was applied in the late ’60s or early ’70s when the trees were still saplings.
“Well, it’s going to be that way again,” he lamented.
The disaster has been especially challenging for Peshon’s teenage daughter Kimi, who has a nonverbal learning disorder. Even minor transitions, such as going to school or going from class to class, are difficult for the Special Olympics star.
So the Peshon family takes Kimi into the burn zone and encourages her to ride her bike through the neighborhood to grasp the land’s transformation.
“Everything has to have a plan,” Peshon said.
Yet the destruction is overwhelming.
“No matter where you look, just 360 degrees of devastation,” said Kurek, glancing around from his garage this week.