Retired fire chief homeless: A few plates, fishing lures, bird houses are all that remain
June 27, 2007
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 their 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 its pattern. The fire soon moved northeast toward his neighborhood, destroying almost every house.
“Right now we’re homeless,” John said.