LOWER LAKE — When the sun set on Lower Lake Sunday evening only two things prevented the tiny downtown from plunging into total smoky darkness: the orange flames consuming dozens of businesses and homes, and the flashing red lights of the fire engines struggling in vain to save them.
Firefighters from engine companies across the region — St. Helena, Santa Rosa and Susanville — waded through smoke thick from burning tires in Lower Lake’s downtown, saving most buildings but losing many. The post office, Maynard’s Sports Bar and Small Town Ceramics survived. The Habitat for Humanity Office, a score of cars near 4 Star Auto Repair, an antique shop and the historic Lower Lake firehouse were destroyed.
Dozens of homes were burned down within blocks of downtown, although Cal Fire officials maintained late Sunday night only 10 structures were destroyed.
Hot spots remained around town. By nightfall the smoke cleared enough to see stars, but small smoldering fires continued to burn on hillsides in every direction from downtown. Firefighters remained at the ready in driveways near threatened homes while utility crews cruised streets assessing the damage.
Wade Holley, 25, surveyed his family's auto repair shop on Main Street. While the shop survived the fire, Holley was amazed at the damage surrounding it.
"It's crazy," he said. "I never thought a town could burn down like this."
The fire had largely left the downtown area but engines continued to choke Main Street as water tenders filled up from hydrants to carry the fight to the outskirts of town.
That’s where Heather Murray was heading around 9:30 p.m. after convincing a law enforcement officer to let her back home to the Copsey Creek area north of Morgan Valley Road. She was desperate to check on the goats, dogs and cats she left behind to do errands but was unable to return because of mandatory evacuation orders.
“I’m pretty sure it’s gone,” she said of her home as she made her way on what she said would be a two-mile hike home.
A soccer coach at Lower Lake High School, Murray said she’d just taken all the team’s gear to her home to prepare for a match and feared it was destroyed.
Linda Delgado, who has lived downtown for about three years, hobbled down Main Street around 10 p.m., disoriented and clutching a brown bag.
“I’m trying to get to the hospital,” she said, pointing at her left foot, where dried blood covered her toes and flip-flops.
She explained a law enforcement officer trying to evacuate her neighborhood earlier in the day had pushed in her front door, smashing her toes just as she went to open the door. She didn’t have time to grab anything from her home. She, too, snuck back into the evacuation zone late Sunday night. Her worst fears were confirmed.
“My house burned down,” she said. “I lost everything.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or email@example.com. On Twitter @SRCityBeat.