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Tahoe fire creates ashen landscape

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE ” The smell was sickening. The sight was worse.

Artifacts of everyday life and ash, so much ash, were left for the houses unlucky enough to be in the path of the Angora fire.

Because it did seem like luck. It’s likely the main reason, besides defensible space and geography, why one house was spared while its neighbor became nothing more than soft rubble.



Houses along Lake Tahoe Boulevard, Boulder Mountain, Coyote Ridge, Mule Deer, Pyramid Circle and a handful of others were fuel for the fire, which started off Seneca Drive in U.S. Forest Service land. The main rumor for the cause is children playing with fire.

Hundreds of firefighters battled the blaze, with acts of bravery already being told, such as an El Dorado County sheriff’s deputy using an idle Bobcat to dig a fire line that saved a few houses along Mewuk Drive.



On Monday morning a few minutes after 7 El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago was escorted into the area by sheriff’s Sgt. Bruce Rosa. She said she managed to sleep for only 10 to 15 minutes at her ex-husband’s house.

“It stands to be a very long three to four days,” she said.

As Rosa guided his cruiser onto Sawmill Road, guarded by law enforcement, like other arteries into the blackened area, the hazy smoke made the sun a fiery blood orange.

It wasn’t the only colorful sign that something was wrong.

On Glenmore Way off Tahoe Mountain Road, several evacuated houses were doused with red fire retardant, including a formerly white Sunbeam car.

Down the road children’s toys remained in the driveway.

Sunday’s gusty winds that seemed to push in every direction, coupled with dry fuel from a lackluster winter, created the perfect fire storm

“Everything at the same time to make a nightmare,” Rosa said.

“It just jumped everywhere,” he added.

Earlier in the morning, south Lake Tahoe fire Capt. Brad Piazzo took a short break at the command center at the Lake Tahoe Airport before heading back to lead strike teams at Gardner Mountain. He described flames as high as 300 feet.

“I’ve seen stuff I haven’t seen before,” Piazzo said.

Santiago’s voice broke several times as she recognized houses of friends whose homes were saved or obliterated.

“I was trying to keep it together,” she said, wiping away tears.

The scene would make the most hardened heart ache. Chimneys remained standing, as well as one stone entryway leading into open space. Mailboxes and bearproof trash containers survived. Cars were skeletons. Bikes were burnt.

Downed power lines crisscrossed roads along the asphalt. Some poles were broken, making a crude crucifix. A windshield for an Izusu Trooper on Brush Road was melted as if plastic.

“Oh God,” Santiago said, surveying the damage. At Pyramid Court, where some of the first evacuations took place, six homes were destroyed along with a dog Rosa believed perished.

“A lot of people could be making some interesting choices,” Rosa said. He suggested that some people might grab their insurance money and leave Tahoe, forgoing the headache of rebuilding in an area littered with red-tape bureaucracy.

Tony Sears, who lives on a sidestreet of Lake Tahoe Boulevard, appeared bewildered that his house remained standing next to flattened houses and scorched earth.

He learned his house survived late Sunday night.

“It was a lot of relief. It took me to my knees,” he said.

Dave Ennis stayed at his house along View Circle on Sunday night. On Monday morning, he was eating Honey Nut Cheerios. The fire was nerve-rackingly close to his house around 5 p.m. Sunday so he packed an antique guitar and family memorabilia. He promised himself that he would stand in a nearby meadow and watch his home burn if one of the several small embers ignited the structure.

“A lot of people really got nailed,” he said.

Bob Swift waited in limbo at the corner of Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Industrial Avenue, wondering if his house along Mt. Rainier and his 1970 Monte Carlo escaped the inferno.

“I hated to leave it but we had to get out,” he said of the car. After staying at Motel 6 on Sunday night, he had $13 in his pocket. He left his wallet on his home’s kitchen counter when he evacuated in a hurry.

Authorities guarding the intersection wouldn’t let him pass. Some of the brave ” or foolish ” used backroads via mountain bikes to check the status of friends’ houses.

They were turned away when caught by roving authorities ensuring the area was filled with the proper officials, and not potential looters or those who could get injured.

Dan Wilvers, a pastor at Sierra Community Church, was one of those on a mountain bike. He anticipated friends, acquaintances and strangers taking people in, providing relief and offering donations.

“I think churches will be a little bit busier this week,” he said.


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