TAHOE CITY, Calif. - Community support is overflowing for a quartet of North Shore residents, days after they lost all their possessions in a fire that has left them homeless and their three dogs presumably dead.
"It's been so inspiring, it really has - it was such an insane tragedy," said Alix Laub, 24, who lived at the home in the Talmont area of Tahoe City with her three roommates. "I was born and raised in Tahoe, and it's really an amazing community here ... the response and help, the little things we've gotten has been amazing."
On Tuesday, Todd Stroup, a fire prevention technician with the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, said an investigation concluded that the Sunday, Jan. 13, early morning fire at 491 Club Drive was caused after an ember escaped the home's fireplace and "ignited combustible materials nearby."
"It's truly one of those situations that was completely accidental. Embers escape fireplaces, it happens," Stroup said. "It's tragic, and we never want to see any loss of life or anyone put onto the streets."
When firefighters arrived, Laub's roommates had escaped, wearing nothing more than the clothes they wore to bed that night; one didn't even have shoes on. The temperature during the fire reportedly hovered around minus-7 degrees.
One of the occupants suffered minor injuries and was transported to Tahoe Forest Hospital, where he was later released. Laub was not in the home at the time of the fire.
Volunteers also responded to the scene at about 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 13, said Kathleen Weis, Chief Operating Officer at American Red Cross Capital Region Chapter, helping the residents with temporary lodging and supplying them with food, coats and shoes.
"They lost everything ... so we continue to do work with them to help replace some of their items," said Weis, referring to typical Red Cross protocol of assisting with near-immediate replacement of needed items such as medication and contact lenses.
Laub moved to the home in May, joining her three roommates, all men in their lower-30s, who had been living there about a year, and the quartet quickly became friends.
Since the blaze, one of the roommates has temporarily relocated to Sacramento. Meanwhile, Laub, who graduated from Whittell High School in Zephyr Cove and earned her college degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, has been staying for free at a hotel on Tahoe's South Shore, a two-week gift from the hotel's operator, whom she knows. The other roommates are making do by living at a hotel on the South Shore, she said.
While the quartet is alive and working to rebuild, the bodies of the home's three dogs - Stella, a Siberian husky, and Callie and Cassidy, two German vizslas - have not been found.
Alix's mother, Traci Laub, said there's hope that Stella, who was an "escape artist," may be alive somewhere.
Still, reality of the situation hasn't been easy to swallow.
"After the fact ... you can't get the pictures back. I can't even think about getting another dog," Alix said. "I guess I'd tell everyone to hug your dogs closer, hold them a just a little bit closer."
Another thing people can do is lend a hand - like the crew at The Fat Cat Cafe in Tahoe City. Upon learning of the incident and helping some of the victims the morning of the fire with food and drink, a donation jar was set up.
"That's just how we feel - they are our neighbors," said Randy Rogers, a manager at the deli. "I'm a dog owner, and I felt so bad, so while they were here, I just printed something out real quick and by the end of the shift we had a couple hundred bucks.
"My house is right down the road up in Talmont. I drove by and was just like 'holy cow.' The house is torched. They lost everything, so even a little handout here and there is going to help. Anything is good."
Details also are being worked out for Fat Cat to host a large-scale fundraiser at a later date, Rogers said.
It's this kind of community support that has Alix and her mother optimistic during the rebuilding phase.
"Recovery for the young four residents of the home will be a very long emotional and financial road," Traci Laub said. "But with the close knit community here in Tahoe all the way around the lake, the love and light is already shining and making this more bearable."
Added Alix: "When all you have is the clothes on your back, no shoes, anything, even a couple bucks here and there really means a lot."