People have asked me to post the before & after pictures here that I posted on facebook, so non-facebook users could see them.

Here they are - or just click either picture, above.

ALSO... the Video the Boulder Daily Camera posted is here.

Update from Inishowen 12th September 2012


Really, that's what this is - you can read backwards from here or scroll to the bottom and read upwards, if you have OCD. But the dust has settled. With a modicum of work, the foreclosure turned into a gorgeous wee palace that meself and friends can visit, summer or winter. From the house, my sons in Colorado Springs are only 20 miles away and the neighbours are wonderful people.

I couldn't find a direct replacement, of course, for the clock my father hand-built in the 1940s, so I took the money and put it into something to attenuate my deep anguish (yeah, right) over losing the one-off clock to the fire. The boat lasted a couple of years and confirmed the saying that "A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money". Fortunately, a bad northeaster hit Donegal while I was sitting, fat, dumb and happy, in Galway.

Down she went, fully insured.

I decided it would be better to put the money into education and real estate for a family member.

And that really is "THE END" of the Four Mile Fire Saga.

All's swell that ends swell. That was a really good fire.


Update from Inishowen 05 June 2011

How to turn one house into two.

First, you gotta get caught offguard and have it (and 168 others) burn to the ground while you're in another country.

My insurance company finally paid me the last of what they owed me, a month after I returned to Ireland (and six months after they should have). It was an awful fight, just getting what the policy plainly stated I should get.

The foreclosure I bought was about halfway through refurbishments and it was metamorphosing from "really sweet" into "gorgeous" when I had to drop tools and come back to work at the planetarium before Easter. The seller still hasn't paid for everything that was wrong that they guaranteed was OK, but, hey, they're a bank and you can't expect honesty. My older son's doing a more-than-capable job of shepherding the rest of the work through to completion.

Now, anyone wanna buy a smoking crater in Fourmile? It'll be a nice meadow in another year and I can't afford to build on it.

Boulder County Land Use Department, with their"BuildSmart" codes, have priced themselves out of my range, as far as building anything new on the old Fourmile site. What I could build anywhere else in Colorado for $100K would cost $185K in Boulder County. Enough said.

I'm back to the plan that got me the soon-to-be-gorgeous house near my kids. You can buy X square footage today for half or less of what it would cost to build it.

Now that the insurance has finally paid off, I'm looking to buy something smallish, secluded in the mountains west of Boulder, as close as possible to Eldora Ski Area. If I could, I'l like to do exactly what I did before: rent it to some responsible person who'd care for it and keep a bed open for me, whenever I go to Colorado for the Christmas holidays. That's what I'd like.

Or I may just give up and buy a boat.

Update from the Fourmile Burn 28 March 2011

Darwin is often misunderstood, and not just by creationists. Darwin didn't espouse a theory involving "survival of the fittest". Rather, his theory postulated better survival rates, not for the hardiest, but for the most-adaptable. Conditions on earth changed many times through history; some species adapted, some became extinct. I keep this firmly in mind as I trudge through the minefields of insurance paperwork and negotiations.

I did take my son's advice and bought a very nice house the bank had foreclosed on last year for less than half of what it would have cost to rebuild my house. The Fourmile house was 120 miles from where my sons live. The new place is 20 miles. I won't have any trouble finding house-sitters while I'm living in Ireland. The bank didn't take care of the house or winterise it, so they had to repair 134 frozen plumbing breaks and replace a lot of gyp board before I'd even consider an "as is" sale. Even so, their workmens' workmanship wasn't up to snuff (to put it mildly) and I'm having to repair and replace a lot of gyp board, not to mention having to repair and recarpet the entire house - the existing carpet had a little too much joint compound stuck into it to suit me.

I still own a smoking crater in Fourmile, on which I intend to start a smallish rebuilding project, beginning this spring with a garage which can be used to shelter construction materials and construction workers while the main house is being built. Eventually, it should turn into a nice mountain meadow retreat.

Update from the Fourmile Burn 12 December 2010

Big change in plans. The "guaranteed cost of replacement" coverage on my homeowner's policy sounded like the only viable alternative, if I wanted to get full value out of my house, but I'd end up right where I was - I'd have a magnificent house, but with the same big-arse mortgage. I'd need another tenant who could afford to live in the high-rent neighbourhood, just to cover my monthly payments. The idea of taking the policy's stated value of the house, paying off my mortgage and ending up with "only" about $180 grand in my pocket from 15 years' equity never occurred to me because $180 grand wouldn't buy much more than the down-payment on a house in the mountains, the last time I checked.

Enter my wheeler-dealer son with all his "connections". He's been coming up with bargains and foreclosures, like, f'rinstance, a 5,000 square foot house on a forty acre ranch for $146 grand. That was certainly an eye-opener! (Don't ask - it's already sold.) It truly is a "buyers' market" and the reason I never bothered to notice was that, like everyone else I know, I had no money to become a buyer. You don't pay much attention to real estate bargains when it's all you can do to pay your own mortgage.

So, thanks to my son, I'm going to take the money and run. As soon as the insurance pays off, I'll be in the market for a bargain house in the Pikes Peak Region, closer to my family than Fourmile, so they can get some use out of the place while I'm working in Ireland most of the year.

Of course, the insurance covers only the dwelling and contents, not the land, so I will still own a smoking crater west of Boulder that I'll need to do something with.

Enter my mother, who's been dead for 25 years but still manages to find ways to haunt me. When it came to furniture and collectibles, her taste was all in her mouth. One of many examples is the pair of brass cloissoné pheasants for which she paid a grand, but which were so ghastly, I could never bring myself to put them on display lest they scare the children. And what use did an unreconstructed mountain hippie like me have for her Noritake, Waterford and Grand Barogue sterling? That hoity-toity stuff hadn't come out of its (gorgeous, walnut) cases since I inherited it. It's my intention to turn some of that personal property coverage into brick and mortar. I lost a lot of things in the fire that can't be replaced and a lot more pure crrrrrap that I'd have blown off on eBay years ago, if I'd had any sense. It wasn't all my mother's fault, either. I was beyond "collector" and into "packrat" territory, myself. Things like 150-odd hand-carved wooden desk and floor display model airplanes from when I went crazy in the early days of eBay and which went into the attic when my roommate started complaining that the house looked like an airport; the hammered dulcimer I bought at the Rennaissance Fair and never learned to play; the list is long and vomitous.

Whatever replacement value the insurance company and I can agree on and that I don't need to spend on replacements for personal property I actually use, like beds, pots, pans and pianos, will go against a smaller house in Fourmile that I know I won't have any trouble renting. Just how small that house becomes depends on how generous my insurance company is concerning the aforementioned crrrrap.

I spent 15 years remodeling the dome into a palace. Not gonna do that again. I should live so long! Gonna build the cheapest little two-bedroom box I can, using whatever personal property proceeds I get and without further mortgaging. I won't have any problem renting it cheaply because I won't have the former big mortgage to cover out of the rent. Given a few years, it'll have a nice view - a meadow view, to be sure, not the former forest view, but the Continental Divide hasn't moved and the place will green-up and get prettier by the year.

It's the dream of every guy my age to have no mortgage. If everything works out, I'll end up with two houses and no mortgage, one of them an income property. Somebody pinch me! I hate to say it, and I wouldn't wish this experience on anyone, but speaking strictly in terms of dollars, I can see why someone would commit arson. That's awful, I know and I also know a lot of Fourmile residents who were underinsured who came out rather badly. But there have been some silver linings and I've heard more than just a few former Fourmile residents who lost houses say, "It was a pretty good fire".

Update from the Fourmile Burn 06 November 2010

The last of the debris and ashes went into the (expensive, EPA Hazmat-Certified) skip yesterday. I now have that clean slate I was waiting for, so I can start rebuilding. So far, the weather this autumn has been remarkably (in fact unseasonably) warm and, if my contractor can get the concrete pad poured for Garagezilla II next week, we may have a hope of building that all-weather workshop / shelter / construction shack we need on-site, so we don't waste the entire winter season weathered-out.

Update from the Fourmile Burn 27 October 2010

We've (meaning the excavation company and I) complied with the new EPA regulations, wasting a month and turning what would have been a $10,000.00 debris removal job into a $23,500.00 debris removal job. It's almost finished. Shoulda been finished before October 1st.

To give you a sense of the problems the authorities are causing, take the case of a house on Nancy Mine Road, which is way up Wall Street near where the fire started. The excavator and owners went through $1,500.00 worth of asbestos testing to prove that their debris didn't contain asbestos and, therefore, should be treated the same as any normal debris. The results came back from the lab on a Thursday: "no asbestos". The Boulder County Health Officials took their own sweet time and, after the weekend, ruled on the case, saying, "OK, we believe you, the debris contains no asbestos. Now, you will treat and dispose of it exactly as you would asbestos."

It was their way of saying, "OK, you won the argument, but we make the rules, so you're fecked. And let this be a lesson to you for contesting our authority. Don't bother us with facts; we can't be arsed."

My comment: "Get a rope!"

Plans for Garagezilla II are ready to submit for planning permission (here, they call it a Building Permit) and we may actually be pouring concrete for the foundation next week. Boulder County is fast-tracking building permits for "construction shacks", be they exactly what the name implies or be they the reconstruction of a pre-existing 1,000 sq ft outbuilding. If we can get Garagezilla II framed, roofed and heated before the weather gets too awful, we can get a leg up on rebuilding the house it used to adjoin, come spring.

The snow's been variable, with storms ranging from "a dusting" to about a foot of wet, heavy stuff that melted the next day. Until the ground freezes solid, we can pour concrete. Yesterday, we had 60 knot winds. Felt just like Kinnagoe Bay on a normal winter day.

Update from the Fourmile Burn 13 October 2010

If you read my rant of 30 September (below), you'll know that all site-clearing came to a halt a little over two weeks ago, when the Colorado State Health Department declared the entire burn a hazmat area. Not only would this double the cost of clean-up, it might delay things long enough that we wouldn't have a chance of getting the basic garage frame up to use as a staging area and construction "hut" before the snow flew.

On October 6th, the one-month anniversary of the Fourmile Fire, the Boulder County Council (sorry, Commissioners they call it here) held a meeting with attendence restricted to those who lost a home in Fourmile. Representatives from the State Board of Health turned up and got a lot of stick from homeowners. Some homeowners were in favour of hanging the head health honcho in Effigy. (Effigy is a small town east of Longmont.) What it all boils down to is that the State will not consider dwellings on an individual basis - we're all presumed to be harbouring asbestos until or unless we, ourselves, pay for expensive testing to prove we're not. Presumed guilty until proven innocent - good ol' American logic.

The mis-perceptions some county departmental officials had about our situation on the mountain were comical. Yer woman sez, "You have to wet the debris down to eliminate dust." We ask, "Where do we get water?" "Don't your wells work?" "No, the well pumps are electric and the electric poles burned down in the fire". Jesus wept!

We stretched a two-hour meeting out to four hours, discussing, mostly, debris and ash removal. The upshot is that we know what to do and we can comply with the new EPA regs. And while the State has been handing us roadblocks and hurdles, on the local level, Boulder County has been doing what it could to smooth things for those who lost homes. They've appointed one person as the "point" lady for Fourmile and she's the one to ask about anything and everything - and the one to call, if there's a problem. One-stop shopping!

Now, to use the Irish, we can gerronwiddit. First, we have to truck in water to wet down debris and bring in special hazmat-certified skips (excuse me, dumpsters) - think of it as a 30 cubic yard ziplock sandwich bag enclosed in a nuclear-waste vault. The debris and ash get sealed-up in plastic and hauled off to the superfund site east of Commerce City, Colorado. It's not un-doable for our neighbourhood heavy-equipment contractor-of-choice - it just means the same guys will be clearing my property for twice the money. 30-yard hazmat skips rent for $1,700.00 each and it's going to take three or four of them to clear my debris. That's if Garagezilla's concrete pad survives today's core test. If it doesn't, you can double the number of hazmat skips.

We found out who's paying for all of this. Us. Why am I not surprised?

First, our insurors will take it in the neck and pass it along in the form of increased premiums. Then, when the expense exceeds the coverage, it's back to us, the homeowners.

But here's where Boulder County may lend a hand. I'm not sure how far their funding will stretch, but they're offering to reimburse uninsured or underinsured residents the difference between what their insurance, if any, covers for debris clearance and the actual cost of cleanup. Myself, the original cleanup was estimated at $15,000.00. My coverage was $20K. No problem. Oops, recalculate using hazmat standards: $23,500.00, leaving me holding the $3,500.00 bag. Hope the County's funding holds out.

Now, all of this hurry-up has been occasioned by the fact that we wanted to get viable shelter built on the mountain before the snows came. (See previous rant, below.) We'd planned to start debris removal yesterday; we had the skips contracted-for, water truck rented, JCB on the lorry set to roll.

Oops. Too late. My property got five inches of the wettish early winter variety yesterday morning. So, here we sit - first snow and we haven't even cleared the site, yet. Unless we get an unpredicted respite through some "Indian Summer" conditions, construction will be out of the question before April or May when it thaws.

Report from the Fourmile Burn 30 September 2010


After (with my Toyota 4Runner parked in almost the same spot, facing the other direction)

The insurance company has me staying in a grand rental house. From my new office here, I'd been updating the original building permit for "Garagezilla", the combination music studio / workshop adjoining my (former) house, to bring it up to current fire codes when I rebuid it. We were scheduled to clear the site of debris Friday Oct. 1st and begin framing soon thereafter. The plan was to get Garagezilla II framed (about a week-and-a-half) and roofed (about another week) before the snow flies and use it for a sheltered staging area while we rebuild the actual house.

Things were going well until Monday, when the State Health Dept. stepped in, declared the entire Fourmile Burn "hazardous waste" and stopped all of us from clearing our sites so we could rebuild. The State intends to come in with crews in hazmat suits, wet down the area (there's no water up there, so they'll have to truck that in), then bag the remains of our houses and contents and transport them to a hazmat dump ... somewhere.

They won't say who's paying for this, they won't give a completion (or even a start) date and there go all our plans for rebuilding in a timely manner.

From what I hear, someone said a bad word: asbestos. There wasn't a bit of it in either my house or Garagezilla, but nevermind that, the word's out and so are we.

If left alone, we could have had Garagezilla II framed up as a work shelter and a start made on the new house before the snows of late October flew. With the State now involved, we won't get to start until after the April thaw. This is gonna add 7 months to the time during which Fourmile residents are forced to live in alternate housing and it will increase everyone's costs by millions of dollars. I actually feel sorry for my insurance company. Leave it to the State - they took a manageable disaster and turned it into our own private Katrina.


More as it happens.