Rising from the ashes of the Washoe Fire | SierraSun.com

Rising from the ashes of the Washoe Fire

Jenny Goldsmith
Sierra Sun
Jenny Goldsmith/Sierra Sun
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A symphony of clanking hammers, churning concrete and the steady pulse of a construction vehicle moving in reverse echoed along a hillside on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore as residents work to rebuild from the ashes of last summer’s Washoe wildfire.

“We’re making lemonade out of the lemon we were handed,” said Peter Morris while taking a break from helping lay the foundation of his soon-to-be-restored Tahoe Woods residence.

The real estate broker and father of two said he used to work construction in his 20s, so assisting with the restoration has been one satisfying outcome of the August 18 inferno.

In the midst of an emotionally trying situation, Morris said another silver lining came from the cooperation of local agencies who helped expedite the permitting process.

“The TRPA was very accommodating, the school district was helpful, the fire district was helpful … I can only give them all good grades,” he said.

However, not all Washoe Fire victims expressed their gratitude toward the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Washoe Way resident Erik Hurst said he plans to take the bistate agency to a small claims court in hopes of recovering a $1,000 fee related to erosion and water quality that he felt was unnecessary.

He also said he had to do some hoop jumping with the building department, and he still holds resentment toward the Tahoe Park Water Company for the inadequate emergency water supply.

“What I learned from this is we’re still not prepared,” Hurst said. “The water companies need to have better emergency back-up plans.”

Hurst’s Washoe Way neighbor John Griffith said the most important lesson he learned after watching his home burn to the ground was to keep his homeowner’s insurance up to date.

Griffith said he unfortunately hadn’t updated his insurance policy since 2004, so while his home continued to increase in value, his coverage stayed the same.

“Equity goes up so fast here so you have to keep up with your insurance,” Griffith said. “We ended up losing about $280,000.”

Conversely, Morris said after completing a significant renovation to his home just months before the fire consumed it, his wife had contacted their insurance company to upgrade their policy.

After the catastrophic Angora Fire in South Lake Tahoe, his wife called the insurance company a second time to ensure their policy would cover them in the event of a similar disaster, he said.

“That was huge. I owe all my thanks to my wife,” Morris said.

Gazing over the hillside where less than a year ago Morris watched the blaze scorch it’s way to his home, he said looking back, the hardest part was figuring out “at what point do you believe it will happen to you and then what do you decide to grab.”

When they finally accepted the fact that their home was going to be engulfed in flames, Morris said his wife quickly grabbed the computers and some photo albums, while he nabbed a piece of art a friend had painted for the family.

“At the end of the day ” as dramatic as it was ” it’s just a house and it can be rebuilt,” he said. “The wisdom I got out of the whole thing was that people and relationships are truly what makes life special.”