|By Ryan Maye Handy; by Ryan Maye Handy Special to The Gazette -|
Nearly 250 of the 347 homes destroyed have been rebuilt, many of them transformed into what some residents call "McMansions" or "castles." Two years after the fire, Mountain Shadows in many places is eerily devoid of its scars - but for the "black sticks" covering the adjacent burned foothills.
"All the neighborhoods look so different. But we still really like Mountain Shadows - lots of great people up here," Palmer said. "It doesn't really look like there has been a fire. But really other than the trees, it just looks like a new development. I guess that's good."
Despite Mountain Shadows' new, glossy exterior, the pain of loss seethes in many residents. Memories of the fire drove some from Mountain Shadows for good and continue to haunt those who rebuilt or whose homes survived.
Most people are tired of talking about "the fire." But, beneath the surface, their lives are defined by it.
But Mountain Shadows' fast recovery also echoes a disturbing trend in the West: Catastrophic wildfires wipe the slate clean, making room for bigger, more expensive dream houses in zones that remain at risk for wildfires.
"When you put up bigger houses, you are increasing the fuel load," Simon said. "In some ways, there have been efforts to decrease fire risks. But you are putting more fuel on the landscape. Why did that happen?"
Much of Mountain Shadows has been reborn, and the new homes have kept the real estate prices and home values rising.
A drive along
"Up on the top of Wilson there is a home, it looks like a hotel. They bought two lots. It is so big," Palmer said. "It's kind of cool to see what people have chosen to redo. And the homes along Flying W, it's like 'go big or go home.' It's great."