Fire spoils 21st birthday celebration |

Fire spoils 21st birthday celebration

Jeff Munson/Tahoe TribuneGina Christensen, front, watches her home burn, while her mother, Bonita Christensen, is consoled by an off-duty firefighter. The cause of the fire is believed to be from a wall heater.

A fire destroyed a South Lake Tahoe home on Wednesday, the 21st birthday of its occupant.

Gina Christensen arrived at her Rocky Point Road rental home from a friend’s house at about 9:40 a.m. to find her mother, Bonita, and sister Heather, standing outside the home that was gutted from fire.

The fire started about 9:15 a.m. in a wall heater, which was old and probably hadn’t been replaced in several years, South Lake Tahoe fire officials said. Damage to the home is estimated at more than $100,000.

“The wall heater, I would say, probably outlived its life,” Battalion Chief Scott Douglass said. “It was a fairly old unit.”

Firefighters doused the fire from the first floor and the rooftop, where they pierced a hole in the roof to stop the fire from spreading.

Christensen, a South Lake Tahoe hair stylist, was alerted to the fire by her sister, Heather, who called her cellphone number. Heather and her mother live about a block away from the home.

They were contacted by a family friend who saw flames coming from the house.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Heather Christensen said of her sister’s home as it burned. “Today is her birthday. We were going to go out and celebrate.”

Gina’s mother added that her two daughters moved to South Lake Tahoe from Napa earlier this summer to be closer to her.

“Finally, my babies come to be with me and this happens,” Gina’s mother said.

For the time being, Christensen, who has rented the house since May, said she will stay with her sister and mother until she finds a new place to live.

Fire officials said that most of the belongings in the house were destroyed but that the kitchen remained mostly intact. All three fire stations responded to the fire, while Lake Valley Fire Protection District served as backup.

Christensen’s cat, Mia, is believed to have escaped the fire, Douglass said. A firefighter said he saw it dodge out from behind a closet in the kitchen.

“It just took off, so somewhere in the neighborhood is a cat without a home,” Douglass said.

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