From sailboat to RVs, Tahoe evacuees seek shelter |

From sailboat to RVs, Tahoe evacuees seek shelter

Claire McArthur
Tahoe Daily Tribune
Mike and Carolyn Robinson are staying on a friend’s sailboat in the Bay Area after evacuating the Caldor Fire — the second time their home has been threatened by fire. Provided

Sitting on the deck of a friend’s sleep-in sailboat docked in a Richmond marina — their temporary unconventional digs — South Lake Tahoe residents Carolyn and Mike Robinson have evacuated from their home for the second time in their 45-year Tahoe tenure.

“We’re experienced evacuators. Our house is up off of Tahoe Mountain Road where the Angora Fire was in 2007,” says Carolyn. “They were able to stop it about 100 yards from our house. Other homes in our neighborhood were burned up higher. By some miracle, our house and our immediate neighbors were saved.”

While the Caldor Fire has burned through 210,259 acres and damaged over 670 structures — compared to the 254 homes and 3,100 acres destroyed by the Angora blaze — it has brought back memories of fear and uncertainty for many residents as they seek shelter beyond the South Shore.

Mike Bauer and Phyllis Shafer are camping in their A-frame trailer near Point Reyes while they wait out the Caldor Fire. Provided

“Living on a boat is always a compromise, but we’re so grateful to have this rescue, and now we’re just watching the news minute by minute and hoping that our home and the rest of our community is spared,” adds Carolyn.

Phyllis Shafer and her husband Mark Bauer are camped in their A-frame trailer near Point Reyes Station in Marin County. The well-known local artist and retired longtime educator at Lake Tahoe Community College fled her home in Christmas Valley last Thursday as evacuation warnings for the Caldor Fire loomed in El Dorado County.

Loading both of their trucks with paintings and other essential items, the couple and their “cranky terrier” headed to a friend’s home in Woodford — a community evacuated just two months ago as the Tamarack Fire blazed through — to store their possessions before driving to the coast in search of cleaner air.

“When I woke up on Sunday morning and the fire had moved two miles closer, it suddenly seemed really dire. I had a bunch of really large paintings, like 6-to-7-foot paintings, I’d done in the 1980s when I was an artist living in the Bay Area,” says Shafer, with emotion. “They are part of my legacy. I suddenly got so sick thinking I’m going to lose that part of my history.”

Luckily, friends were able to get in before the mandatory evacuation order came down on Monday to retrieve the paintings.

For South Lake Tahoe resident Brandi Brown, taking the material possession that mattered most to her wasn’t possible. Several years ago Brown purchased her family homestead, an old ranch near Barton Memorial Hospital where her family’s cattle once grazed, and her children are now the fifth generation to reside in the house.

“Stuff is stuff. My most prized possession right now is the thing that I cannot bring with me,” says Brown, who spent three days alongside her husband raking pine needles and trimming trees to create defensible space around their house before heading up to Incline Village to shelter with a close friend.

Brown’s family has lived in Tahoe for over 100 years with ties to cattle ranching, meat production, and even gaming; her great grandfather, Harvey Gross, started Harveys Wagon Wheel — now known as casino giant Harveys Lake Tahoe — in 1944.

“I looked at my 5-year-old at one point and said, ‘Go grab your favorite toys and put them in this bag.’ She asked me why, and I had to tell her this fire is serious and it might come and burn down our house,” recounts Brown. “She got upset, but she put on a brave face. She went and got her Buzz Lightyear and her bunny and she packed. I was very proud of her. The kids can definitely feel it.”

More than 50,000 people are displaced from their homes under mandatory evacuation orders spanning El Dorado County and some sections of Alpine County. As of yesterday, mandatory evacuations were extended into Nevada in parts of Douglas County.

But for some without family or friends with rooms — or boats — to spare, the evacuation has an added element of stress.

Shelters with cots and camping spots have popped up in community centers, outdoor events centers and churches in Reno, Carson City, and Truckee with many quickly filling to capacity. The Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless worked to evacuate the South Shore’s unsheltered population without means of transportation or anywhere else to go.

Jessica Villalobos, a single mother of two, just moved back to her hometown of South Lake Tahoe from Illinois for a fresh start on Aug. 18. She had almost no time to get settled in her new apartment by the “Y” before she was forced to evacuate her family — including two dogs and four cats — along with possessions from two other family members’ homes who weren’t in town.

With options limited due to the animals and finances, Villalobos found a post on Facebook from a woman in Dayton offering up her RV for an evacuating family for free.

“She bought us dinner and has even offered to take us shopping for some clothes and basic items needed. I am so grateful and thankful to her, and I hope one day to be able to pay her back in some kind of way,” says Villalobos. “Tahoe is strong. We will get through this.”

The kindness of strangers has gone a long way in helping evacuees of the Caldor Fire, and for those looking to help, there are a number of organizations collecting funds and supplies to aid the evacuees.

Here’s how you can help:

El Dorado Community Foundation ( The El Dorado Community Foundation and Hands4Hope – Youth Making a Difference have partnered to raise funds for victim relief. El Dorado County residents can apply for the funds in the form of a Visa prepaid gift card through the Hands4Hope website, where you can also find information on online donations and the goods they are collecting like linens, air purifiers, tents, and laundry detergent for evacuees.

The Red Cross ( The Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region is operating three shelters for evacuees of the Caldor Fire and has requested monetary donations to support the effort.

The Salvation Army ( The Salvation Army is helping to prepare and serve meals at two of the Caldor Fire shelters. Monetary donations can be made online to support this effort through their emergency disaster services fund.

Help Sierra Breathe ( Help Sierra Breathe is a group of organizations across the Sierra Nevada working in partnership with Mask Oakland to get N95 masks to those impacted by the Caldor Fire. Donations can be made on their website.

Brandi Brown and her family evacuated to a friend’s home in Incline Village where they are trying to keep things upbeat for their two young girls. Provided

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