'All the trees looked like humongous torches'

  • Roger Hue de LaRoque surveys the scene near his home where cars, trailers and others items were burned near Clearlake Oaks on Monday, August 13, 2012. His home was saved but the farm he relies on for his income was burned to the ground in the 3,000 acre Wye fire which began on Sunday afternoon.

CLEARLAKE OAKS -- The view from Roger Hue de LaRoque's deck looks like a scene from a post-apocalyptic film.

The ground around his Clearlake Oaks home is charred and covered with pale ash, the trees are black sticks and smoke is rising from rocks and debris.

"It's a war zone," said de LaRoque, who sells infused balsamic vinegar and homemade jams at farmers markets.

He was returning Sunday afternoon from the San Rafael market when he spotted smoke coming from the hills northeast of Clearlake.

The fire began shortly before 4 p.m. Sunday near Highways 20 and 53, creating a billowing column of smoke that towered into the sky, visible in southern Sonoma County more than 50 miles away.

Firefighters saved de LaRoque's house overlooking Highway 20 just east of Clearlake Oaks, but about everything else on his 30-acre parcel was destroyed. His fruit trees and most of a 5-acre vineyard are ruined. His solar energy system is a melted mass of metal, glass and plastic.

A car, tractor, horse trailer and hilltop cabin also were destroyed.

De LaRoque said it took 10 years to grow his trees and vineyards.

"Now it's gone. It's overwhelming. I don't recognize my place," he said.

His modest house might have perished, too, had he not bulldozed the brush around it to clear an area firefighters call "defensible space."

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