Internet connects Tahoe community after fire |

Internet connects Tahoe community after fire

Teri Vance
Appeal Staff Writer

Sandra Clifford was at home in Los Altos, Calif., when she heard South Lake Tahoe was on fire.

She flipped on the news and saw flames in the neighborhood of her second home on Cone Road.

She and her husband knew the odds were against her home surviving, and there was nothing they could do to save the four generations of family photos they had stored there, but they desperately craved one thing: Information.

And in places like Lake Tahoe – where some residents live full-time and others have permanent homes elsewhere – the community is one that can be disjointed. The Internet can serve to bridge those gaps.

“It really helped to have eye-witness reports,” Clifford said.

Knowing what to expect, she said, prepared them for the moment they saw for the first time the blackened pile of debris that had been their home.

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When the Angora fire ignited on June 24, four-year Myers, Calif., resident Hanna Bernard was also desperate for information.

“I was trying to find information, and it was just impossible,” she said.

She surfed about 50 Web sites, she said, in order to collect all the insight she was looking for.

What she thought the community really needed was one place where all the bits and pieces would come together.

As a self-employed graphic artist and Web designer at Highmark Designs in South Lake Tahoe, she concluded she was the one for the job.

So within the first few days of the fire, she organized as a place where all the information she could come up with was aggregated onto one site.

The first day, she said, the site was “limping along.” But by the end of the first week, she’d had nearly 3,000 hits.

Once people learned what she was doing, “I was just bombarded with information.”

She continues to update and maintain the site free, with information ranging from where to get help if suffering from depression after the fire to how to contact a contractor and where to get information on insurance and support groups.

It also lists updates from local agencies and news organizations, with a special section dedicated to information pertinent to those who lost homes.

“I have friends who lost their homes in the fire and I wanted to do what I could do,” she said. “And this is what I could do. And I could do it fast.”

Bernard has also donated her time and services to develop a Web site,, for the Angora Fire Fund, a nonprofit organization set up to benefit victims of the fire that burned 3,100 acres and destroyed 254 homes in South Lake Tahoe.

“I hope, at least, people appreciate that I am a local and I really, really care,” she said.

• • •

Clifford, a commercial airline pilot, has flown to Lake Tahoe from the Bay area since the fire, but doesn’t like the amount of fuel it takes.

“And it’s been hard because we can only come up on weekends and certain agencies aren’t open,” she said.

She relies heavily on Bernard’s Web site and hopes more resources will become available online to ease the recovery process.

She and her husband, Pete Petersen, a science teacher, had planned to move permanently to Lake Tahoe in six years after their children completed high school.

They are still trying to work through the insurance process, but, she said, once their budget is determined, they would like to rebuild and carry out their plans of making it their permanent home.

Through the destruction of the fire, she said, they have discovered the graciousness of their neighbors – many of whom they’ve met in chat groups online – and a sense of belonging.

“What brought us to Tahoe was the beauty,” she said. “What’s going to bring us back is the community.”

On the Net

For complete coverage of the Angora fire or to purchase a book of photos taken during the fire go online: