Don Meaney will not have the same house he had before the Waldo Canyon Fire.
The last time that Meaney, a local artist who lost his home in last summer’s fire, spoke with The Catalyst, he stood smiling in front of a scorched foundation. Now, still smiling, he stands in front of a blank slate of new earth.
“Think Easter Island, but this time it’s going to come back,” Meaney said.
Where the land he had once described as “London, Berlin, or Tokyo after war” stood charred with a dotting of black trees, now stands the starkness of fresh stucco houses.
Construction equipment abounds where pine trees once loomed.
The Mountain Shadows Area, one of the hardest places hit by the fire, is, if anything, on its way back.
Though there is much promise from the quickly developing houses, the neighborhood has still taken a hit. Of the 144 owners of homes that were burnt, 40 former residents have decided to sell their vacant lots.
Housing development companies have mostly bought these abandoned real estate parcels, showing that the land still retains value. Aside from the monetary worth, Meaney’s lot still holds a sentimental price.
“See how the trees are just coming out of the snow?” Meaney asks. “That’s really nice. That’s why I’m coming back. It’s beautiful here.”
This sentiment represents a change in tone from when he last spoke to The Catalyst in the fall. Where he had once “found no inspiration” in the devastated landscape, Meaney seemed fascinated by the fresh houses popping in tune with the oncoming spring.
The rebirth of a home for Meaney has not been an easy one. Aside from the flames, insurance companies seem to be the newest threat.
According to Meaney, his insurance company has fallen short of its sole purpose—financial aid in catastrophe.
To help future homeowners from suffering due to a catastrophe similar to his own, Meaney’s voice will play a part in the foundation of the Insurance Reform Act of 2013.
“Getting an email from the senator to be at the signing of it was a nice touch,” Meaney said. “Well, it is after the fact. But how does progress happen? This is prospective – it’s for future casualties in future events. It doesn’t help us, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a voice if you’re trying to identify what’s right and what’s wrong.”
The act ensures regulations for insurance companies such as requiring “insurers to include at least one year of additional living expense coverage,” among a multitude of other provisions, according to the act’s website.
In addition to his support of the act, Meaney has also filed a complaint against his insurance provider with DORA, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.
“It has at least risen to the point of interest of the Colorado Attorney General,” Meaney said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s going to go anywhere, but it has peaked their interest, which is good.”
Meaney prefers the active approach, also represented by the speed of his building recovery.
“Me just saying that I’m unhappy isn’t sufficient grounds for a referral to DORA,” Meaney said. “From my point of view, it is a matter of values. The only right thing to do is to speak up. People want to be treated fairly.”
Even post-tragedy, there continues to be threats to the neighborhood—namely water and thieves.
Criminals have been stealing copper wires and building equipment, slowing down the building process further.
“You run into a lot of beautiful people here, but there is also that one-tenth of one percent that are the thieves,” Meaney said. “People have already had horrible things happen to them, and thieves come in after the fact?”
In addition to copper swipers, there is the looming threat of flash floods. Meaney made a point to check drainage points throughout the neighborhood during his visit to the Mountain Shadows area.
Also, cement trucks have dumped debris on his property. “Come on, talk about piling on after the fact,” Meaney said. “People are stealing and thinking that they can use my property as a [bathroom]? Come on.”
Regardless of the petty setbacks, Meaney smiles at the future.
The superintendent of Meaney’s home construction project happened to show up during the interview. Meaney insisted on taking a picture with his newfound ally. There was talk of a new deck, landscaping, and roof styles between the two.
While driving back from the battered yet breathing Mountain Shadows Area, Meaney told me an anecdote about a bobcat; one of the many beasts that roam the area, on his porch.
Lastly, he calls to attention the circular quality of our encounter.
I first met Don Meaney through a reference made by Lorelei Beckstrom, a local artist and art supply store employee. I was a very fresh freshman and looking for a story to – hopefully – help me make my way onto The Catalyst.
Here, some eight months later, in the freshness of spring, we have come full circle: Meaney has just closed on his construction loan and is ready to build, Beckstrom just had her first art show at the Modbo collective, and the Mountain Shadows Area is on its way to a successful recovery.
Meaney attended Beckstrom’s show roughly a week ago, and took interest in a very particular piece. It featured a sock puppet pushing a rock up an endless mountain, referencing the myth of Sisyphus, the man who spends eternity pushing a rock uphill.
“Oh, god no,” Meaney said. “I’m nowhere near the top of that hill—still much to do. But all in all, it’s been a good path.”
The groundbreaking for Meaney’s new home is scheduled to begin this month.