Friday, October 26, 2007

Remembering Lake Arrowhead

In July, I spent a Saturday in Lake Arrowhead, one of the hardest hit areas in the current Southern California inferno. Over the past week, I’ve watched their community be besieged by wildfire. In our CNN era, we get to watch disasters as they unfold, enabling the entire country to feel physically ill at the same time. The last report I heard said 500 homes in Lake Arrowhead had been destroyed.

As you can see from these pictures, Lake Arrowhead was a gorgeous place. I was there to do a travel story and was honestly a bit disappointed in what it offered for a day trip. But as we wandered around the giant shopping plaza that doubles as their town center, we had to admit it was beautiful. When I sent in my story and pictures, my editor e-mailed me with kudos on the photos. I told her it was almost impossible to take a bad picture there.

Hollywood has loved Lake Arrowhead for years. Photogenic in the extreme, the man-made, privately-owned lake is rimmed with beautiful, decadent, and historic houses. The San Bernardino Forest surrounds Lake Arrowhead, and outside the lake’s exclusive shoreline I saw sobering damage from both bark beetles and the 2003 fires. The homes around the lake sat in largely unscathed forest. The extremely wealthy people who built multi-million dollar mansions around Lake Arrowhead were able to maintain the trees and alpine look that made the area famous. Does the name Hilton ring a bell? Let’s face it, these are the people who can afford the water bills to duplicate what prior normal rainfall was like. But fire is an equal-opportunity destroyer, regardless of your bank account or pedigree.

The day I took the boat tour – one of the only way non-property owners can use the lake – it was refreshing to look at a forest untouched by modern ravages. Do you remember the way forests used to look? Lush, green trees as far as you could see? Today, almost every forested area within a five-hour drive from Las Vegas has been ravaged by drought, fire, and/or bark beetle damage. When I looked at those solids stands of healthy trees on Lake Arrowhead’s shore, I was torn between sorrow and gratitude.

I can’t imagine the terror of fleeing from a wind-fueled wildfire, nor the agony of finding nothing but ashes where my home once stood. My heart goes out to this community. Sadly, this brutal fire season isn’t done yet, and Lake Arrowhead’s tragedy is only one of many unfolding right now, live on CNN.

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