Investigators looking into the cause and origin of the fire that destroyed two South Lake Tahoe homes last week have determined that the fire was accidental, according to Lake Valley Fire Protection District Fire Chief Gareth Harris.
Watercolor artist E. Peter Darvas, who owns the house where the fire started, sent an email to the art community on Tuesday describing the fire as a freak accident caused by an antique wood-burning stove he kept in his studio at 3120 Pioneer Trail.
He was in an adjacent room cutting boards for a crate to ship a painting when he smelled smoke. When he went into the other room, some of his packing materials had already caught fire and the flames were 2 feet high, he wrote in the email.
He tried to extinguish the fire with a gallon jug of water before running for a garden hose, but he was forced away by the heat and called 911.
"I ran around the outside of the house, turned the hose on full blast and opened the studio door. Time lapse 30, 45 seconds. Then the blast tossed me back. I did pull the door shut and called 911. My van and a pickup truck were parked in front of the house as usual. By the time I parked both in my neighbor's driveway the first fire engine arrived," Darvas wrote.
Firefighters who responded to the call transported Darvas to Barton Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for severe burns to his face and hands and smoke in his lungs.
The artist has been released from the hospital and is doing well, longtime friend Robert Schimmel said.
"He looks good and he's feeling well," Schimmel said.
The fire started a few minutes before 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18. South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Brian Uhler credited a quick response from the more than 80 firefighters and 26 law enforcement personnel from multiple agencies with preventing the fire from spreading to additional homes and the surrounding forest.