Calistoga dentist fought to save his Lake County home

HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE Calistoga dentist Leroy Bowser spent part of Saturday afternoon watching the distant inferno thats now called the Valley Fire, then he spent the next 12 hours helping to keep the flames from his Hidden Valley Lake neighborhood.

We could see the fire. It was the most fantastic scene Ive ever seen, like an apocalyptic thing, Bowser said on Thursday morning in front of his home on Powder Horn Drive. The flames were running they went down the mountain as fast as they could. It blew a transformer across the road (Highway 29) and started another fire.

It got down to Havys (a Mexican restaurant on Highway 29), burnt that down, went down to the body and fender place (Hidden Valley Auto Body), burnt that down and jumped (across Highway 29) and got behind the Shell station, Bowser said.

Seeing the way the wind was blowing, he thought his home, which is about a mile from the Shell station, would be OK. But then he saw smoke and the fire started to head toward Donkey Hill Road and his house.

Bowser and his son, Erick, had to fight the traffic to get back to his house. There were three lines of cars coming toward us who were trying to evacuate, so we had a little bit of trouble getting back home, but finally we did, he said.

It was 3 or 4 p.m. when they reached their home and it was then Bowser decided to stay put.

Why? I didnt want to lose it. This is our whole life, everything is here. Ive become an outdoorsman and I grew up on a ranch, so I kinda was exposed to a lot of stuff. Ive been through things before.

Bowser, his wife, his son and a woman from Cobb who was also evacuated have stayed at Bowsers house since Saturday.

The fire stayed pretty active until maybe 2 or 3 in the morning, Bowser said. The firefighters were up here, driving around and checking for people.

A fire crew from Morgan Hill was stationed at the intersection of Powder Horn and Donkey Hill roads. The engineer and four crew members stayed throughout the worst of the fire. The engineer told Bowser he wouldnt abandon the family.

On Saturday evening and throughout early Sunday, the fire raged through parts of Hidden Valley Lake, destroying numerous homes on Donkey Hill Road, Grizzly Court and Powder Horn Road, and raced just outside of Hidden Valley Lake, through the Ranchos neighborhood on Yankee Valley Road and Honey Hill Road.

Cal Fire estimated Thursday morning that the Valley Fire has destroyed 585 homes and numerous outbuildings as it burned more than 70,000 acres, mostly in southern Lake County. In Middletown, homes in the areas of Wardlaw, Stewart, Douglas and Callayomi streets were burned as well as those near Rabbit Hill.

Did Bowser ever think of leaving? Maybe, he said, if the house on Donkey Hill and Powder Horn, owned by Tom and Nancy Wilson, burned down. But he and his son put out small fires all night Saturday and early Sunday, including wood chips in his neighbors yard that caught on fire three or four times.

We cant say enough about the firefighters, Bowser said.

Bowser has lived on Powder Horn Road for the past 25 years and before that he lived in another house on the golf course. Luckily, I bought two lots here, Ive got a lot of protection; Im not up against somebody, he said.