Retired South Lake Tahoe fire chief homeless |

Retired South Lake Tahoe fire chief homeless

Emma Garrard
Nevada Appeal News Service

Emma Garrard/Nevada Appeal News Service John Lilygren, former Battalion Chief for South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, looks at the remains of his retirement ax in the burned rubble of his home.

As a retired battalion chief for South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, John Lilygren had seen a lot of structure fires – he never thought one of them would be his own home.

When Lilygren returned to the rubble that was his home on Coyote Ridge Circle, he appeared calm. He circled the perimeter of his property and saw two bird houses still standing on their posts.

“That one had a next of chickadees in it,” he said. “I’m sure they’re gone now.”

When he made it back to his driveway, he looked up at a tall pine tree in his front lawn.

“I always wanted to cut that thing down,” John said.

John and his wife, Kathy, were escorted to his home by Russ Dow, division chief for the department because their neighborhood is still evacuated.

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“Everyone’s trying to wrap their brains around it,” Dow said. “It’s like (Hurricane) Katrina – everyone knows someone (who has lost a home.)”

After looking through a hole in the last remaining wall, Kathy found some antique china plates, unbroken. It was enough to put a smile on her face for a moment.

The couple dug through the ashes, and found the remains of his great-grandmother’s peddle sewing machine, his fishing lures, a collection of guns and the head of his retirement ax.

The ax was given to him after his 32 years as a firefighter, but even with so much experience, he said he had never seen a fire quite like this one. He shared a laugh with Dow when they unburied his golf clubs and wondered if they could find any balls.

“It’s not the best place to tee off,” John joked.

Although Lilygren retired three years ago, when fire broke out Sunday his instincts kicked in and he couldn’t help but take photos of the fire, studying it’s pattern. The fire soon moved northeast toward his neighborhood, destroying almost every house.

“Right now we’re homeless,” John said.