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Man Learns House is a Loss

Jill Gosche
Advertiser Tribune
June 28,2007

An outside source told John Panuto what he said he didn't want to hear: His home is a loss.

"I didn't really know what to expect," Panuto said. "When you (hear) total loss, it overwhelms you." Panuto led James Stewart, an independent insurance adjuster for GAB Robins, and Rick Bell, project manager for Disaster Masters in Bellevue, through the burned house to survey the damage Wednesday.

The inspection came three days after a fire tore through his home at 346 S. Washington St. because of a wayward bottle rocket. "It will have to come down," said the 37-year-old single father. "What do I do from here? I wait." Panuto said he was not insured - but the fire was not his family's fault.

Bell said he's worked for Disaster Masters for three years, and Panuto's experience is the first time he's seen a bottle rocket catch someone else's home on fire. "This is bad," he said. "You're talking a lot of damage in the inside."

Bell estimated his company handles four or five large fires each year, or those with damages between $100,000 and $150,000. He said the company works on about 20 structures damaged by small fires yearly.

"I usually go through, measure the doors, check the carpeting," he said. Bell stretched out his measuring tape several times in an attempt to find the home's dimensions and questioned Panuto about the house's upper level.

"It's gone," Panuto answered. The men trekked up the stairs to take a look at the charred walls and what is left of Panuto's belongings. "This is pretty much a gut," Bell said. Panuto told Bell he hadn't been in the basement, but had seen a lot of water and answered affirmatively when Bell asked him whether the home's electricity had been shut off.

Bell said he probably would rate the damage to Panuto's house an "8" or "9" on a scale of 1-10. "Obviously, we're going to need several Dumpsters to get this stuff out of here," he said. After Bell examined the home, Stewart surveyed the damage. Stewart said after the tour he compared reconstruction and renovation costs. "We're here to assess the damage to the building and contents without commitment," he said.

During a walk-through of the property, the men looked belongings that once were in the attic above the kitchen. A ball, "Barney" clothing, bear, glove, ironing board and jeans are among the items piled lifelessly on the kitchen floor.

A few feet away, a cabinet sits in the kitchen, free from major fire damage. Son Josh's YMCA sports picture, a roll of film, a packet of pictures and a clown from Panuto's mother's attic also survived. Panuto pointed out a wedding picture showing his mother and father, who now are deceased.

"As bad as (the house) is up top, it didn't get touched," he said about the cabinet. Panuto said three cabinets made it through the fire. One contains the wedding picture, and another white one sits next to it.

"Everything around it's burnt," he said. A cabinet in the living room has hearts on its doors, and Panuto said he made it while he was a student in Sentinel Career Center's building trades program.

In the backyard, more of Panuto's furnishings rest in a pile. His kitchen table, chairs, stools, a trash bag full of clothing and lawn chairs sit behind the house. A Lego peeks out of the rubble.

As he neared the end of his inspection Wednesday, Bell said he would take the information he gathered back to his office to enter it into an "Xactimate" program to generate an estimate. Stewart has the same program, he said.

Panuto said he should know within a week or two a financial amount from the insurance company, and he will spend time itemizing his possessions. Panuto - who has four children, John II, 16; Kelsea, 13; Nicole, 11; and Josh, 9 - said several of them have been staying with him at Quality Inn.

"Josh has been by my side the whole time," he said. Initially, the American Red Cross paid for Panuto to stay for three days; now, he can stay through the weekend, thanks to the Seneca Community Chaplain Corps.

Panuto has some housing options after his time runs out at the hotel. "I'd like to stay close to home," he said.