Accounts from the flames: Tahoe residents and visitors tell their story | SierraSun.com

Accounts from the flames: Tahoe residents and visitors tell their story

Joanna Hartman and David Bunker
Sierra Sun

Alex Close/Sierra SunA Tahoe Park resident fights the Washoe Fire with a garden hose on Saturday.

Emily Robbins looked over to her West Shore neighbors’ deck around 1:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon and noticed it was smoldering.

Within minutes her home and her neighbor’s were burned to the ground, and she was left standing with the only things she left her home with ” tank top, shorts, flip flops, cat and dog.

The Washoe Fire, which burned five homes and one outbuilding to the ground Saturday afternoon, rattled West Shore residents and visitors just as the area winds down into the last weekends of the summer season.

Grace Randick of Santa Cruz was on her last day of vacation when she saw the flames that started the Washoe Fire.

The small fire on the back deck of the neighbor’s home soon became a billowing wall of smoke and flames, Randick said . She ran to the unoccupied home to let out the two St. Bernard dogs inside.

It was then that “the windows started popping,” Randick said.

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The flames began to creep toward her family’s vacation home, but the vacationers battled the fire back with a garden hose.

Others in the neighborhood, like Chaco Mohler, who lives two houses from where the flames started, said he felt lucky to have escaped with no damage.

“Wind is destiny for a fire,” said Mohler. “So we were lucky that way.”

The fire flared quickly, jumping from the homes on Washoe Way on Tahoe’s West Shore, to the adjacent forest.

Neighbors on Pine Avenue whose homes back up against the three destroyed houses said they were scared while they watched the flames burn. Many packed their cars with valuables and grabbed their pets ready to head out the door.

“I was shaking. I couldn’t even get my stuff into my bag,” said Kacey Sachen, a San Francisco resident who was staying for the weekend.

“We were 30 seconds from jumping in the car and leaving … and luckily the wind just died,” said Jake Fathman.

Dozens of onlookers dressed in beach clothes stood by and watched as helicopters thundered low over the treetops with buckets full of Lake Tahoe water.

Dark skies clouded by smoke cast eerie orange shadows as sirens wailed for hours and fire personnel called for more help.

Several cars smoldered from the heat of the two burned homes.

But through all of the chaos, residents were appreciative of the response from the various fire agencies.

“The way they’re moving around from hot spot to hot spot ” I think they’re doing a good job,” said West Shore resident Ned Topham, whose home wasn’t an immediate risk in the fire.