2 South Lake Tahoe houses gutted by fire; 1 man injured


Update: City officials are saying it will be after midnight when people will be able to return home.

By Kathryn Reed and Susan Wood

A South Lake Tahoe man was taken to Barton Memorial Hospital after being burned while trying to put out a structure fire Tuesday night and two houses were completely destroyed.

The fire on April Drive in South Lake Tahoe started a little before 6pm Sept. 18.

It did not take long for Peter Darvas' house to be fully engulfed in flames. Photo/Damian Frisby

Peter Darvas, who owns the larger of the two houses, is the person who was injured. He was being treated at Barton for burns to his face and shoulders. Officials told Lake Tahoe News he was trying to put the fire out and in the process was injured.

Fire officials said it is too early to know the cause of the fire and estimated damage.

Flames spewed from windows and the shake roof was disintegrating as firefighters attacked the flames from the ground and the ladder truck.

People in the area of Pioneer Trail were being evacuated.

“I heard explosion after explosion and I saw the (corner) house on fire and it caught the house next to it (on fire) in three seconds,” Karen Holmes, who lives on the street over, told Lake Tahoe News. “It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.”

Holmes, who grew up in South Tahoe, looked across the street and saw Hal Cole’s horses running around a bit frantic. Cole, who was not home at that the time of the fire, lives on the other side of Pioneer Trail from the fire.

While Darvas does have animals, it is not known if they are OK. No one was home at the residence next door on April.

Holmes echoed Fire Chief Brian Uhler’s sentiments that the town was lucky there was no wind. Uhler and area firefighters were at first concerned the fire would spread uphill into the forested area.

It is not known what the explosions were, however Darvas is a well-known artist so it could have been some of those supplies.

Darvas also is known for having a lot of debris in his spacious yard. The city has hauled some of his stuff away and the two sides have been dealing with abatement issues.

At the time of the call South Tahoe crews were gathered at the airport. More than 60 people and 15 pieces of fire equipment were on the scene. They included South Tahoe, Lake Valley, Tahoe Douglas, Fallen Leaf Lake, and U.S. Forest Service. El Dorado County sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol also assisted.

Traffic was still being rerouted around the area and likely will be well into Tuesday night as fire crews keep attacking the flames. Liberty Utilities crews are also on scene because of downed utility lines.

(Click on photos to enlarge. Photos/Kathryn Reed)






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Comments (22)
  1. JoAnn Conner says - Posted: September 18, 2012

    All things considered, we were all lucky this was not worse.

  2. Careaboutthecommunity says - Posted: September 18, 2012

    Great filming, looks like they were attacking it with all they had, but it was a tinderbox, that had already had a head start.

  3. Kathy says - Posted: September 18, 2012

    I was looking at the firemen in the video ,Great job they did ,Thank you Lake Tahoe fire Dept,prayers to them ,God Bless ,and prayers to Mr ,Darvas .

  4. Biggerpicture says - Posted: September 18, 2012

    I hope we all realize how lucky we are to live in this precarious environment, just waiting to be ignited, with protection from a GROUP of agencies that can work together like a well oiled machine to keep us safe from being burned out of our home!

  5. Chief Slowroller says - Posted: September 18, 2012

    Yo Peter hope you are ok

  6. Tom Wendell says - Posted: September 18, 2012

    Wow, what a total bummer. Hope your injuries are not too severe and you recover quickly. Houses can be rebuilt, we will be here for you. Thanks to all the fire personel for a job well done!!

  7. molly bennett says - Posted: September 18, 2012

    Mike and I are sending good thoughts your way, praying for a swift recovery!

  8. Elie Alyeshmerni says - Posted: September 18, 2012

    Swift recovery, Peter
    Knowing you, you became injured in service to others
    God speed.

  9. old long skiis says - Posted: September 19, 2012

    Peter Darvas, I hope you have a swift recovery and you can re-build your house. Many years ago I lived just a few houses down and at that time that house was owned by the Twitchell family.
    Wishing you all the best, Old Long Skiis

  10. GR8TRIB says - Posted: September 19, 2012

    I am not an official spokesperson – Just wanted to tip my hat to Pronto Pizza for the thoughtful act of kindness bringing food to the scene.

    Uniformed police, firefighters and volunteers welcomed the meal.

  11. LtlMissD says - Posted: September 19, 2012

    This brings tears to my eyes! My daughter lived in the upstairs bedroom of this house for 2 years.
    Our prayers go out to Peter and others affected by this loss.
    Love & Light to all,

  12. Diana Hamilton says - Posted: September 19, 2012

    26 years ago I lived in the house next door that was involved – scary & sad – poor Peter. He had so many beautiful canvases in his studio; physical, emotional, & financial devastation.

  13. Marc says - Posted: September 19, 2012

    This is troubling to me. Please post an update on the findings of the investigation. Explosions are not normal in a residential fire. Catching an exposure on fire in “3 seconds” is not normal. There is a station a mile or two down pioneer with either 2 or 4 man staffing, depending on the status of the ambulance and station two has a straight shot down al Tahoe. Going defensive on a residential fire is unusual.

  14. Careaboutthecommunity says - Posted: September 19, 2012

    Is it unusual after the Angora fire? Late September, dry conditions, forest about 4 houses away/a couple hundred feet away?

    I am curious too about the explosions, wondering if it could be propane tanks?

  15. Justanotherdummy says - Posted: September 19, 2012

    OHMYGOD!! Seriously! Explosions…ummm..he’s an artist! Do you know what artists use, people?! Really, trying to pour something into this that isn’t there..good god, what’s wrong with you?! The guy was out there with a garden hose trying to extinguish the blaze..if he were up to something nephritis, wouldn’t he have hightailed it out of town instead?!…but I’m just another dummy! Geez, be thankful no one was seriously injured including mr. darvas!

  16. Dick Fox says - Posted: September 19, 2012

    OMG!! I know it doesn’t take anotherdummy to know that the fire didn’t start from Peter being up to something like kidney disease. Geez, did you mean nefarious?

  17. Justanotherdummy says - Posted: September 19, 2012

    Hahaha…I see you’re not another dummy! However, autocorrect is! AND yes, I meant nefarious but my phone doesn’t know the difference between a criminal act and ONE kidney disease! I will enlighten…

  18. Marc says - Posted: September 20, 2012

    It’s troubling because there is little reason to go defensive on a residential fire. If the homeowner was there, 911 was called within a few minutes of it starting or as soon as he realized it was beyond his control. Stations right down the road ensure an engine was on scene and either 4 or 6 people are able to make an aggressive interior attack. “houses next door” or exposures don’t catch fire in 3 seconds. Put the fire out and everything gets better. This should have been contained to a room and contents yet sticks went up and 2 houses were lost. I am not saying the homeowner set it intentionally. Unless the fire dept protected it from spreading into the wild land instead of going inside, it should not have spread to the 2nd house.

  19. Careaboutthecommunity says - Posted: September 20, 2012

    Everyone has to make a judgement call in a fight or flight situation, and ask yourself the question: Can I get this put out myself, or do I need help? Judging by his burns, I’m guessing he tried to fight the fire himself for at least a bit, then came to the determination that he needed help. Everyone is different on this, and none of us know how we will react, until we are in a given situation.

  20. Biggerpicture says - Posted: September 20, 2012

    Not insinuating anything at all, but didn’t this house burn partially in the early eighties, and took years to be remodeled on that side of the house?

  21. It's burned 3 times in 33 years says - Posted: September 23, 2012

    It’s burned 3 times in the 33 years I’ve been here. I have no idea if it’s been the same owner for all that time. Interesting though.

  22. 3rd of 4 generations of FF's says - Posted: September 23, 2012

    There are lots of reasons to go defensive on initial attack at a residential fire and it’s not unusual to do so. It may not be common but it’s not unusual. It’s not unusual for a residence to go up in “3 seconds” either. May not be common, but again, not unusual.

    Let’s take a deep breath and let the investigation run its course.