Lakehills couple survived 1988 firestorm
Fred and Cheryl Adler’s story is every homeowner’s nightmare. On a sweltering 1988 afternoon Fred stood on his shake roof, garden hose in hand, and watched the prevailing breeze off Folsom Lake push a fast-moving fire through low lakeside brush. The fire then launched itself past his home onto Iron Mountain, the tree-studded mound at the northern terminus of Lakehills Drive in El Dorado Hills.
Within minutes the tree canopy ignited. In the ensuing firestorm sap-laden pines exploded, launching molten missiles in all directions. “It was like a hurricane, throwing hot stuff all over,” Fred said.
Oaks that had graced the knoll since the Gold Rush were reduced to embers.
Fred continued to douse his roof, initially relieved as the fire bypassed his home, but then horrified as it reversed direction, advancing downhill into the wind directly at the dream house he and Cheryl built in the mid-1970s.
El Dorado Hills Fire Chief Dave Roberts was there that day and confirmed the conditions were hot, dry and windy. “The fire got so hot that it generated its own wind and reversed direction,” he recalled.
On the roof the heat became overbearing. One frightening blast dried out all the soaking Fred had accomplished in the prior hour and sent him scurrying for his ladder. “My lungs were burning and I realized how stupid I’d been,” he said.
Fred got off the roof and told Cheryl, who’d been gathering valuables, to leave immediately. She put their son, the cocker spaniel and the cat into the Camry and beat it for her brother’s house on nearby Guadalupe Drive.
“It felt like if it were any hotter our clothes would have caught fire,” said Cheryl.
But getting out wasn’t a given. People flooded in for a peek at the fire. Cheryl had to repeatedly get out of her Toyota and command the “Lookie Lous” to move vehicles that blocked the road.
The Adler property abuted the road that would become Shoreline Circle a couple of years later, when the Southpointe subdivision was built on Iron Mountain. In 1988, however, the road was just a narrow, gated stub off Lakehills Drive, which became gridlocked as the Lookie Lous reached the gate, then had to turn around, many increasingly frantic that they might get caught in the firestorm.
Shortly after Cheryl departed, a tanker flew directly over their roof. “He was headed right for the side of the mountain, dropped his load and pulled off at the last moment,” said Fred.
The bomber scored a direct hit on the advancing firestorm, slowing it long enough to allow Cal Fire and El Dorado Hills engine companies, hampered by the congestion, to arrive and save the Adler home.
“They were heroes that day,” said Cheryl.
“They saved our house, that’s for sure,” added Fred, who later learned that the fire was started by kids playing with matches.