The devastating blaze that took over South Lake Tahoe destroyed 254 homes and caused more than $141 million in property damage, destruction witnessed first hand by one of Cal Poly’s very own.

Born and raised in South Lake Tahoe, Cal Poly graduate Lauren Bachelder, 22, received a life changing phone call on June 24. The frantic woman on the other end of the line was her mother, Cecilia Bachelder.

“She was evacuating the house and wanted to know if I left anything at home that I wanted before they left,” Bachelder said.

Caught off guard, Bachelder couldn’t think of anything that she needed.

“I asked for a childhood stuffed animal and my ski boots,” she recalled. “I later regretted not asking for my high school yearbooks.”

A few things Bachelder made sure they wouldn’t forget were their computers, passports, important papers, their picture albums, and, most importantly, their two cats.

“My mom assured me that they had grabbed those items and then told me the firemen were asking her to leave the house,” Bachelder said. “She said that while she was packing the cars, my dad, Jon Bachelder, had been hosing the roof down with water and setting sprinklers to spray our wood piles.”

Desperate to know exactly what the chaos was all about, Bachelder scrambled through Internet updates for any information she could find.

“Sunday night was the worst,” she said. “We had no idea if our house was still there or how far it had burned.”

While hoping for the best, the Bachelder family started receiving phone calls and text messages from concerned friends and neighbors.

“We have a small community and everyone was trying to help,” Bachelder said. “We have a few friends who were firemen so we received a few updates from them.”

The fire started Sunday at 2:14 p.m. and by 4 p.m. the Bachelder household was evacuated. At that point 12 surrounding houses had been destroyed.

“Every time I checked online the count was higher,” Bachelder said. “By Monday morning over 220 homes had burned down.”

Bachelder knew by this time even if her house did survive it would be surrounded by complete devastation.

“I grew up walking through the forest to my friends houses,” she said. “In such a small, close-knit community, 220 homes are far too large a number to lose.”

Luckily, their house was one of the survivors of the fire. In the end, Bachelder knew 70 percent of the people who lost their homes, a loss all the same.

“Our neighbors lost their house and the fire had burned to our fence,” Bachelder said. “Someone pulled a hose off from our roof to help put the fire out before it reached any further.”

Jon Bachelder described the streets as war zones with all but two houses burned to the ground.

“In an area where people live to be surrounded by nature and beauty, it is especially hard to see the ‘match-stick’ trees that used to make up our amazing forest,” Bachelder said.

Even though the fears of the fire finally subsided, Bachelder worries that those who lost their homes won’t choose to rebuild.

“I worry that our house will stand in devastation alone while others pack up and leave,” she said.

A new analysis taken less than a week after the fire disaster showed that four out of five homes near South Lake Tahoe are still in areas considered to have a high fire hazard.

However, it seems the community is refusing to give up completely. Those that lost their homes have responded with an overwhelming majority who are in favor of rebuilding their homes.

“I am excited to see the new construction project spring up,” Bachelder said.

Until then, Bachelder says the houses still remain in their skeletal form, an eerie reminder that their house survived. She described the charred leftovers of stovepipes, washers, dryers, and refrigerators.

“My neighbors felt lucky to find a set of porcelain bowls and a few glass angel Christmas ornaments,” Bachelder said.

Bachelder said she will never forget those who have lost everything. Every day while she drives through the fire’s path is a visual reminder of how lucky she and her family truly are to still have their home.

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