A Ponderosa pine that has survived historic fires and was singed by the devastating Valley fire in Lake County has become a symbol of resilience and a reminder of the losses that many suffered two years ago today.
The more than 100-foot-tall tree on the east side of Bogg Mountain was crowned over the weekend with a memorial tower — a six-foot-tall ring of steel and cedar that is lit at night with a halo-like effect that can be seen from two to three miles away.
For Henry Blohm, the Lake County man who had the memorial installed on his property with the help of a helicopter, it represents “sacrifice and sticking with it and not giving up,”
There is also a chest atop the tree, accessible by a rope ladder, to hold letters, pictures or other mementos for those who lost their homes — or worse.
The Valley fire, the most deadly and damaging of four fires that burned in Lake County in 2015, devoured more than 76,000 acres and 1,280 homes and killed four people. The fire, the third most damaging in state history, caused an estimated $1.2 billion in damage to the county.
The inferno was sparked by shoddy wiring to a hot tub that sent flames racing down Cobb Mountain, pushed by winds on a path of destruction through drought-stricken forests encircling a half-dozen communities in southern Lake County.
Blohm, who lives off Big Canyon Road about eight miles from Middletown, stayed to fight the fire with a hose that he said helped save his house and a neighbor’s home as well as the tree.
“It’s amazing the tree’s even there,” he said Monday, adding that its age is estimated at 250 years and it has survived fires that go back to at least 1880.
Blohm had a small ceremony with about 20 people, including neighbors, on Saturday to mark the installation atop the tree.
“I thought about the people that were hurting,” he said, noting the large area of Lake County that has burned up over the past two years. Along with the Valley fire in 2015, there were the Rocky and Jerusalem fires.
Then in August, 2016 the Clayton fire scorched nearly 4,000 acres and incinerated 300 structures, including 188 homes and 10 commercial buildings.
Lake County Supervisor Rob Brown said there are no commemorations today to mark the Valley fire because most people aren’t keen to dwell on it.
“People want to get on with their lives. They want to celebrate success, not bad memories,” he said.
“I’ve talked to people and they didn’t want to do an anniversary thing,” Brown continued, adding that after people die their survivors don’t usually celebrate the date they passed away, but their birthdays.
Brown said as far as what’s risen from the ashes, many homes are being rebuilt or replaced by beautiful houses.
“A lot aren’t going to be rebuilt,” he said, because many were second homes, rentals, vacant or bank-owned properties.
Paul Bradley, the helicopter pilot who placed the commemorative piece on top of Blohm’s tree, said “a lot of people fought that fire. A lot of people lost their homes. To be part of it and give back was the right thing to do.”