South Lake Tahoe homeowners in limbo over what survived fire and what didn’t
June 25, 2007
STATELINE – Patty Stetak was on edge Monday as she and her family awaited word on the fate of their Mount Diablo Circle home in the Mountain View Estates.
“I heard that only seven homes on my street were OK, and 22 others were burned,” she said via telephone from her home in the Bay area.
“I don’t think our house made it. But we’re hopeful.”
But Hec Hernandez didn’t have the luxury of hope anymore. He visited Lake Tahoe Community College on Monday morning where the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department had listed the homes lost, saved or damaged in the fire. His home at 1463 Mount Olympia Circle was not on the list.
“The college is doing updates every half hour, and they said if your address is not on (the list), your house has been destroyed,” he said.
He also had several people tell him they watched his home burn on television.
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Hernandez, owner of South Shore Bikes on Ski Run Boulevard, was home when the fire began on Sunday about 2:10 p.m.
He said he was getting ready to take his dogs for a walk when he noticed smoke on the ridge.
Hernandez rode his mountain bike toward the smoke as he saw people running out of the forest. Then he saw the flames.
He said he thought to himself, “Oh my God, this is real.”
Sunday’s nightmare seemed to pass in five-minute increments for Hernandez. Five minutes after noticing the smoke, he saw flames. Five minutes after returning to his street, he watched the flames inching toward a neighbor’s house. Five minutes after that, Hernandez was putting out spot fires near his own home. Five minutes later, a firefighter told him to leave, and Hernandez said he wanted to try to save his home.
The firefighter tried to help, but five minutes later, the two men were forced to flee.
“We realized there was nothing we could do,” Hernandez said.
The sheriff’s list showed six homes on Mount Olympia Circle standing and 24 homes lost.
Ron Eames was riding his mountain bike away from his parents’ Grizzly Mountain Drive home on Sunday afternoon when he first saw the smoke that would later turn into an all-consuming inferno.
About the same time, his mother heard about the fire and called from out of town to ask Eames to head back to her house and put water on the roof.
Eames said by the time he turned around, he had to tie his shirt around his face because of the smoke.
“The smoke was so bad. And the wind was blowing so hard, it was like it was sucking all the air,” he recalled.
He made it back to the house, hosed the roof down and turned on the sprinklers, then the firefighters came.
“They told me I had five minutes to get out,” he said. “All I could take was my backpack.”
On Monday morning he was at the Red Cross Shelter at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation and Swim Complex on Rufus Allen Boulevard looking for information on whether his family’s home survived.
No homes were lost on Grizzly Mountain Drive, according to the sheriff’s list.
However, every one of the six homes on Lookout Point was lost.
Pat McCoy and his wife, Jan, have spent 18 years between their house in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and their place at 18 Lookout Point. From Sherman Oaks, McCoy was able to contact a firefighter who lived below him in South Lake Tahoe.
“He told me his house was leveled and so was ours,” McCoy said.
The McCoy home was one of the last ones before the mountain. He expected it hadn’t survived.
And he isn’t sure if there was enough insurance on it, or if they will rebuild.
Still, McCoy loved that house.
“We had so much stuff there,” he said with a sigh. “So many memories. So many Christmases.”
• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1213.