More forced to evacuate | NevadaAppeal.com

More forced to evacuate

F.T. Norton
Appeal Staff Writer

Panicked South Lake Tahoe residents run for safety as the fire approaches their house Tuesday afternoon. Firefighters trying to tame a raging wildfire suffered a setback when the blaze jumped a fireline near a densely populated area, forcing a new round of evacuations, authorities said. Wally Skalij/ Los Angeles Times

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Despite a series of afternoon blazes north of the Angora fire that caused the mandatory evacuation of 500 additional homes, the atmosphere among evacuees in the parking lot of Miller’s Outpost at the “Y” on Tuesday afternoon was light.

“I brought everything this time,” said Jim Doherty who lives in the Gardner Mountain area.

On Sunday he had half-heartedly packed some of the stuff from his Clements Street home.

“The other day I had time to pack, but I didn’t see the urgency. I felt we were safe,” he admitted.

But Tuesday, he said, there was no question as to whether he should leave, and the pace wasn’t nearly as leisurely.

When he came home at noon he could see flames where there hadn’t been flames before.

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“I ran in and said, ‘We gotta get out of here.’ It looked like hell.”

Sheri Lasick and her family were visiting her parents’ vacation home on Clements Street for a few days when they got caught up in both evacuations.

She, her husband and two daughters left the house on Sunday. Because of the highway closure they couldn’t get home to Sacramento so they stayed in a motel. They went back to the house on Monday.

Lasick said, on Tuesday afternoon as they packed to head back to Sacramento, Doherty rushed over.

“He said the winds shifted and the fire was coming right toward us,” she recalled. “You could hear it popping.”

Mickey O’Toole and his wife, Allison, share a home on Glorene Avenue in the Gardner Mountain area.

Mickey said he’d just prepared a “wonderful” spaghetti dinner when word came down just after 3 p.m. that he should evacuate. He called Allison at work, and she rushed home to help.

As the couple stood in the parking lot blocks from who knows what, they kidded that such a delicious meal would go to waste.

For having their most valuable possessions were packed into the car and their Bengal cat staring miserably at them from a kennel, the O’Tooles were in good spirits.

They laughed when relating what a police officer on a bullhorn said to Mickey when it was time to evacuate.

“I was hugging my friend good-bye and the deputy yelled, ‘Quit your hugging and get out of here!'”

But the gravity of the situation wasn’t lost on them.

“Everyone said they were waiting for the big one,” Mickey said. “This is the big one.”

When Travis Chatwin left his Gardner Street house, he admits it was at the last minute.

“I left when I saw 100-foot flames in my backyard.”

His proof is the video footage he captured on his digital camera – monster flames shot up the trees. A group of firefighters in the foreground looked tiny against the wall of fire.

At the end of Clements Street, Betty Johnson sat on a log Tuesday morning and watched as fire crews lit back fires on the ridge behind her home.

She said she was so impressed with the work they were doing, she went inside to bake cookies for them.

Johnson was able to only deliver a dozen. When she took them outside, a new fire was coming.

“They were doing their job with the back fire, but it was the winds,” she said. “The winds were supposed to be calm today.”

She drove away from her house leaving behind three fire engines stationed there.

“They were great guys from San Leandro and El Cerrito fire departments,” she said. “They said, ‘We’ll do everything we can to save your house.'”

Todd Chapanot, fire information officer for the Angora fire, said the evacuations Tuesday came from fire embers finding new fuel.

“It started several spot fires, but we got those extinguished,” he said. “About 200 (additional) acres were consumed.”

Chapanot said the backfire did not cause Tuesday’s blazes.

“There was a back burn, but the back burn wouldn’t have been the cause of these spot fires,” he said.

• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at ftnorton@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1213.

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