The King fire has raged for nearly two weeks, consumed more than 95,000 acres of timber across two counties and a national forest, chased more than 2,800 people from their homes and threatened the lives and livelihoods of thousands of others.
More than 7,600 firefighters from around the state and country are battling the blaze from the air and on the ground at a cost of more than $5 million a day. Wayne Allen Huntsman, the 37-year-old man accused of setting the fire, sits in an El Dorado County jail cell with bail set at $10 million.
Nadya Lorenz is still trying to grasp that an ongoing disaster of such magnitude started just feet from her parents’ Pollock Pines property on King of the Mountain Road. Nadya’s parents, Lynn and Ralf Lorenz, returned from the Bay Area on Sept. 13 to find their front door kicked in, a fire crackling behind their property, and firefighters and sheriff’s deputies at the scene.
“It was a very random thing for me and my family,” Nadya Lorenz of Grass Valley said. “My parents got home and assumed the fire department kicked it in.”
Law enforcement officials say they believe Huntsman set the fire, then broke into the Lorenz home and called 911 to report the blaze himself. Huntsman, arraigned Sept. 19 in El Dorado Superior Court, faces a felony count of arson of forestland and a special allegation of arson with aggravating factors. Two firefighters were hurt fighting the blaze.
“To think it started in the backyard, it’s boggling. It hits close to home,” Nadya Lorenz said Tuesday. The Lorenzes’ dramatic stone-and-stucco home near the junction of the south fork of the American River and Silver Creek sits on 4 acres at the edge of a canyon overlooking the Desolation Wilderness. The fire started in the sloping, forested terrain behind the house.
Ralf and Lynn Lorenz were driving back to their Pollock Pines home from the Bay Area late that Saturday afternoon when they received a call from their security company, Ralf Lorenz said in a separate interview Tuesday. The front door had been breached, the caller said.
“He asked if I wanted the sheriff notified,” Ralf said. “I came home and saw the front door was broken – a solid wood door. Somebody broke in. The sheriff said they got a 911 call that there was a fire.”
The fire was small on that Saturday afternoon 12 days ago, a curiosity and not the conflagration that it would become less than 24 hours later. Lynn Lorenz even texted her daughter a photo of the brush fire.
The next day, sheriff’s deputies returned to the Lorenz home and others with orders to evacuate. By then, firefighters had begun to swarm the woods around the Lorenz property. Ralf Lorenz said the fire was 30 feet from his property, but ground crews and flame soaking retardant from air tankers above saved the family home.
The Lorenzes headed to a hotel and waited three days to return. Even now, access to the area is restricted to residents.
“It’s been over a week since the fire started and it’s an imminent threat to a lot of people right now,” Nadya Lorenz said.
She recalled the Sunday drive to her parents’ home to help them pack up and flee as the fire grew.
“I could see the smoke coming from the direction of their house. Helicopters and tankers were diving right into that plume. It was like a war zone,” she said. “The power was out, too, so it added to the whole scenario.”
The property today is scorched by fire, soiled and stained with retardant, Ralf Lorenz said, but “I’m happy that my house is whole.”