Visitors, residents caught up in evacuation
STATELINE — Despite a cloud of smoke billowing from the ridge to the east, residents on top of Kingsbury Grade were going on with life as usual as late as 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Hammers could be heard pounding on re-roofing projects on North Benjamin and joggers cruised along Tina Court.
By 3 p.m., though, sheriff’s deputies were fanning through the neighborhood and urging residents to evacuate.
“Hello! Hello! Anybody home?” a deputy called out. “We need you to evacuate, we’ve got a fire!”
“Right here?” asked a resident, referring to his home above Bigler Court.
“Yes, right here,” responded the deputy.
Also evacuating from Bigler Court was resident Darrin Phillips.
“I’ve got my skis, my stereo, computer, laptop and dog –Ethat’s pretty much it,” he said.
“Also I know there’s a lot of dogs up here, so we’re planning on driving around and seeing how many we can bring down.”
“Yeah, it would suck to lose your dog,” said his roommate, Mike Guastella.
“I know the Animal Control people pretty well, so we’ll give them a hand,” he said.
As the column of smoke rising over the ridge grew larger and more orange, slurry bombers and water-dropping helicopters began buzzing the hills. At least two helicopters were collecting water from Lake Tahoe and tanker planes were dropping fire retardant on the blaze.
Linda Menkevich, owner of a condominium on Bilger Court at the top of Kingsbury Grade, had just returned from Florida to find her neighborhood clouded with smoke.
“Things can get so out of control so fast up here,” she said. “You saw what just happened in Colorado.”
She said she had a feeling something strange might happen today.
“I was packing last night and everything was going wrong. My closet fell apart, then the power went out. I just knew something was going on.”
Conditions — windy early in the day and getting windier as the afternoon went on — were a concern to residents.
“This wind is just frightening,” Menkevich said.
Six fire engines were staging at Heavenly Ski Resort’s Boulder Lodge with about 20 firefighters.
Police and deputies were congregating at intersections, hollering from loudspeakers for residents to evacuate.
Near Heavenly Ski Resort’s lodges on the Nevada side, residents and employees were anxiously watching the smoke as the fire neared the top of the ridge from the other side.
“I’m waiting to see fire on this side of the ridge,” said a Heavenly employee. “We may have to escort firefighters if things get worse.”
Just then he noticed a spot fire — started by flaming ashes — on the close side of the ridge, just above Heavenly’s Boulder Lodge.
“This could get hairy,” he said. “This could get hairy.”
Sandy Garske was caught at the top of the gondola when the fire started.
“There were at least a couple of hundred people up there and they brought us down in these trucks. We were just about to try and go down when they told us we couldn’t.”
“It was crazy up there,” said Garske, her turquoise shirt covering her face to keep from inhaling smoke. “People that were coming up the gondola, a few of them said they saw a fire start right underneath them while they were inside.”
“We’re not mountain people, we’re water people. We’re not used to this,” said Sandy Garske of Redmond, Wash., a Seattle suburb.
People who were caught on top of the gondola and those staying at The Ridge Tahoe were taken by shuttle and trucks to the parking lot, where they then loaded onto white buses for the ride down Kingsbury Grade to the evacuation center at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School in the Gardnerville Ranchos.