Historic river home destroyed by flames | SierraSun.com

Historic river home destroyed by flames

A 1912 cabin along the Truckee River burned to a char Friday, leaving its owner, Truckee River advocate Jim Plehn, in grief.

Plehn, one of the founders of the annual Truckee River Day, lived in two adjacent cabins on the south side of the Truckee River near River Ranch.

The cabin that burned was built by his grandfather and contained two bedrooms and bathroom, according to a friend, Thomas Hines.

The adjacent cabin, housing the kitchen and living room, was unharmed.

North Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Duane Whitelaw said the cabin that burned is considered a total loss.

In the extreme fire danger of a warm fall, the fire department called out for mutual aid when it arrived on Highway 89 across the river from the home at 1:53 p.m. Friday.

“When we came around the corner, the flames were 30, 40, 50 feet tall,” said Whitelaw. “It was completely engulfed in flames. It had gotten into the adjacent trees.”

The North Tahoe Fire Protection District, with 17 firefighters on the scene, called for help from Squaw Valley, Truckee and Alpine Meadows fire departments. The California Department of Forestry sent two engines and the U.S. Forest Service sent a helicopter, hand crew and an engine.

Whitelaw said the fire district has a philosophy of calling for mutual aid early, preferring to send people home than to call for more help after the fire has grown larger.

“We were concerned about spot fires and involvement with vegetation,” he said.

There were a couple of spot fires and lots of embers that had to be put out to keep the fire from spreading into the forest.

“The helicopter was our eyes from the air to identify any spot fires,” he said.

The fire also posed difficulties because there is not a fire hydrant nearby.

The fire department pulled a large fire hose across the access bridge to the cabin and then installed a porta-tank alongside the highway that would be filled by a water tender and then pumped by an engine into the hose.

These logistics called for a lane of traffic to be closed down that resulted in traffic back-ups to Tahoe City and past Squaw Valley, he said.

The fire was probably caused by an electrical problem with a wall lamp in a bedroom.

“It could’ve been smoldering in there a period of time,” he said.

Once it ignited, the fire spread quickly.

Hines was doing repairs for Plehn in another nearby cabin when he happened to hear a crackle, he said.

“There was smoke coming out,” Hines said. “It engulfed fast. It seemed like within 5 minutes.”

Hines said he and Plehn knocked down the woodpile next to the house, but were unable to keep the fire from spreading.

They turned their attention to wetting down the walls of the lower cabin, named Bear Rock, to keep it from burning.

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