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Lake Hughes residents stay resolute in face of Powerhouse Fire destruction

Posted: June 4, 2013 5:34 p.m.
Updated: June 4, 2013 5:34 p.m.

Lake Hughes resident John Lewis scans the remains of the home he shared at 18076 Newview Drive in Lake Hughes on Tuesday. Signal photo by Dan Watson.

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LAKE HUGHES — When Holly Solberg came to visit Lake Hughes last weekend for a brief vacation, she expected to spend a relaxing time with her mother who lives in the area.

There was no indication that a raging wildfire would roar through the house, reducing her childhood home to so much soot and ash.

“We’re all in a state of shock,” Solberg said Tuesday.

The Solberg’s home of 44 years was destroyed over the weekend by the Powerhouse Fire, a 32,000-acre blaze that devastated the area before moving north.

Though the fire may have come and gone by Tuesday, evidence of its devastation remained. The strong smell of smoke still lingered in the air. Hills that once boasted verdant pine forests were left blackened and bare. Ash, carried on the breeze, fell on what was left in the fire’s wake. Conversations were interrupted by the occasional whir of helicopters picking up water to drop on the still-burning blaze.

Solberg said her mother, Dorothy, owned two structures in Lake Hughes on the eponymous Solberg Way. But like the family home, the nearby house was left as a blackened and twisted pile of rubble.

But despite the destruction, Holly Solberg said the fire is a poignant reminder of what is really important.

“It’s a reminder, it puts things in perspective,” Solberg said. “We still have each other and home is where the family is.”

Standing in the area that used to be his bedroom on Newview Drive, Lake Hughes resident John Lewis pointed out a number of ceiling tiles, evidence that his home had collapsed in on itself.

“You have all these little shelves of stuff, and each shelf might represent a decade of your life,” Lewis said Tuesday. “And then it’s gone.”

Lewis said he lived in the house with two of his friends, and he is unsure what the future holds.

“I’m stunned and in shock,” Lewis said. “But I’m very much alive.”

Not every home on the tight-knit Newview Drive suffered the same fate. Dennis Immel, who lives across the street from Lewis, stayed in spite of evacuation orders so he could try and save his own home.

“I purchased a bunch of fire equipment a couple of years ago and told myself I would use it if I needed to,” Immel said Tuesday. “It was probably foolish, but I got lucky.”

Immel said the Powerhouse Fire burned through the area with a “200-foot-high wall of flame,” cracking his windows with its heat.

The result is a charred shed, a scorched wood pile and a still-standing home that he can open up to his neighbors to offer them running water.

“For the last three days, everyone has been using my bathroom,” Immel said.

But Immel chalked his still-standing home up to luck as much as to his own efforts.

“I had three or four things going for me,” Immel said. “It’s a newer house so it’s built with construction-resistant materials. It doesn’t have any trees real close that could catch a flame.

“And I stayed here to put water on it.”
On Twitter @LukeMMoney


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