A great-grandmother. A mechanic. A mother and daughter. These are the victims of the Zogg fire
Karin King was home with her two dogs when news broke that an inferno was raging toward the family’s house in Igo, Calif., in southwestern Shasta County. Her son called the 79-year-old retiree to warn her just as King’s husband, Wayne, came through the door and said it was time to go.
Wayne loaded up his truck and Karin put the dogs and a fireproof safe with their marriage certificate into an SUV, her son, John King, recounted. She followed Wayne down the road, traveling through black smoke so thick he lost sight of her car a couple of times.
When Wayne got to the bottom of the road, his wife wasn’t behind him. It was only later the family learned the flames had overwhelmed her vehicle, melting the plastic off its rims.
Karin King was the first fire victim identified in the wake of the Zogg fire, but she wasn’t the last. The blaze also claimed the lives of a devoted muscle-car mechanic, and a mother and her 8-year-old daughter.
After incinerating tens of thousands of acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Zogg fire — named after an old mining road where the blaze originated — was officially contained last week, ending a 17-day burn that took the lives of four locals in Igo and also destroyed the nearby town of Ono.
State investigators are looking at Pacific Gas & Electric Co. equipment as a potential cause of the fire that began on Sept. 27 and scorched 56,338 acres in Shasta County. As wildfires continue to rage in other parts of Northern California, the communities devastated by the Zogg fire are counting their losses and building tributes to four lives lost:
Karin King, 79
Karin King was born in Berlin but lived for most of her life in Northern California with her husband, Wayne King. They met at a German pub in the 1950s, when Wayne was serving in the U.S. Army overseas, and they “pretty much hit it off right off the bat,” their son said. The two moved to Fremont, where Karin served as a retail sales associate, and Wayne worked as an electronics engineer in Silicon Valley.
Aside from a few trips back to visit family, Karin settled into her life in America and loved it, John said. She raised John and his older sister, Angela Griffith. Once she became a grandmother, she always drove down to the Bay Area for family birthdays and graduations, said her granddaughter Michelle Porter.
Wayne and Karin purchased the rural property in Igo more than 20 years ago; it was a retirement dream for Karin, an animal fanatic who brought her fierce advocacy and rescue work to Shasta County. When an animal in Igo was in distress, locals would call Karin’s cellphone number directly for help. She busted puppy mills, unafraid to confront errant pet owners in a part of California where rural poverty often harms both people and pets.
One rescue took Karin to a property where a woman was hoarding more than 20 Great Pyrenees dogs — most of them needing both neutering and nutrition, recalled Janie Hopper, founder and CEO of ResQ Animal Coalition, where Karin volunteered.
“This is desolate, no stores, no gas stations, no nothing except a bunch of people that were living off the grid — and I’m being polite,” Hopper said of the area.
Hopper and Karin rescued 17 of the dogs and tested them for tick-borne diseases. One pup, Buddy, had a chronic illness, so Karin adopted him. “There was nothing that woman wouldn’t do for an animal,” Hopper said.
Karin was at home with Buddy and her other dog, Chloe, on Sept. 27 when her son called from Grass Valley about the incoming fire, just as Wayne came in the door.
“That was the last time I heard from her,” recalls John. “She said, ‘Gotta go,’ and hung up.”
After Karin’s body was pulled from the incinerated vehicle and identified, her family and friends were devastated. Tributes came later. Colleagues in the ResQ Animal Coalition came up with a new name for a service that donates food and supplies to pet owners affected by the wildfire: Karin’s Zogg Fire Pet Pantry.
As for the family house that Karin fled, it survived the fire, as it had two previous blazes. Once power is restored, said John, his father plans to return to the house where he lived with Karin for more than two decades.
Kenneth Vossen, 52
Kenneth Vossen loved cars — fixing them, restoring them and seeing how fast they could go.
“Racing and cars and muscle cars is basically our life,” said Kevin Vossen, 44, Ken’s younger brother.
For Ken and Kevin, the obsession started young. The brothers grew up on a nearly 200-acre ranch that their ancestors acquired in the mid-19th century as a founding family of Igo. The boys helped their grandfather with his Redding-based Motor Supply Co., learning to service cars as preteens.
Ken’s first car, a white 1969 Shelby Mustang, was a restoration project he undertook at 13 years old, Kevin said. When Kevin was 16, his “father figure” older brother bought him a red 1965 Mustang.
A steady stream of hot rods, motorcycles and vintage wheels followed. Ken ran his own shop for several years, drawing customers from across the region. That’s where Eric Sanderson, Ken’s friend of 23 years and an auto body worker, made a habit of stopping by to talk cars. Ken jokingly called them “an addiction or a disease,” Sanderson recalled.
After running a Harley-Davidson dealership in Redding for several years, Ken eventually moved back to Igo in 2010 after his mother died to help his father run the homestead. Ken and his partner of 31 years, Rexanne Clark, lived there with their teenage son, who has cerebral palsy and requires round-the-clock care. With no cellphones and hardly any internet, the family lived unplugged, fishing in the pond and hunting turkeys on their property.
Traces of Ken’s handiwork are etched on cars across the country — including an award-winning 1962 Chevy Impala, owned by his friend Jesse Lindberg, owner of Norcal Paint & Body Works. Over about five years, Ken and his buddies spent hundreds of hours together on nights and weekends underneath fluorescent garage lights, with Ken’s favorite talk radio shows humming in the background.
“He put everybody before himself,” Lindberg said. “He was a real selfless guy.”
In his spare time, Ken invited friends up to the ranch to tinker on some of his “projects” — the roughly 18 vehicles parked at his property. Sept. 27, a Sunday, was one of those typical afternoons. Kevin and his friend drove up to the family ranch to share pizza and beers with Ken and help fix up an old Studebaker pickup truck and a vintage AC Cobra.
Then Kevin noticed a plume of smoke billowing over the trees.
Ken and his family flew into action. Rexanne drove their son to a safe evacuation place. Kevin tried to protect the house while Ken doused water on the building housing all the automobiles. Separated from his brother, Kevin eventually left. Embers blowing in the wind caught Ken, who jumped onto his ATV and raced it down to the pond.
“He made it to water,” Kevin said, “but the damage had already been done.”
Neighbors found Ken conscious but with third-degree burns on 97% of his body, Kevin said. He was rushed to a local hospital and airlifted to the UC Davis hospital in Sacramento, where he died two days later.
Last weekend, Lindberg, Sanderson and others returned to the ranch to sift through the wreckage. Dead trees littered the yard. Ash blanketed the land. The building that housed the cars had collapsed.
Beside a mangled heap of metal, Lindberg found what he was hunting for: an old sports car — a De Tomaso Pantera — that Ken’s dad had given his son. It seemed to have just enough salvageable parts to rebuild into a car, a planned tribute to Ken.
“It definitely hasn’t sunk in yet,” Kevin said of losing his brother. “I don’t know if it ever will.”
Alaina Rowe McLeod, 46, and Feyla McLeod, 8
Alaina McLeod‘s love of her daughter, Feyla, was captured on a video posted to Facebook one month before the Zogg fire.
“She’s my happy bean, she’s my happy bean!” McLeod sang between giggles, her daughter Feyla Rose bouncing in her car seat as McLeod’s husband, Zach, drove them to Starbucks for coffee and pastries.
Alaina and Feyla — inseparable mother-daughter duo, bird whisperers and playmates with vast imaginations — died together escaping the Zogg fire.
The two had been at home, waiting for Zach to return from town with groceries for dinner. When Alaina saw the fire approaching, she and Feyla ran over to the house of a neighbor, who offered her a truck to escape, according to Zach. Authorities later found Alaina, Feyla and the truck in a gully off the road.
“It felt like my heart and soul had been ripped out,” Zach said. “I had the biggest hole inside of me.”
He and Alaina met at a Chico doctor’s office in 2011. On their first date a few days later, they spread a blanket on the banks of the Sacramento River and talked for hours. Within a week, they discussed marriage.
“I never knew love at first sight was not just in the movies,” said Zach, who married Alaina on Aug. 7, 2016. “But it happens. I’m living proof of that.”
Feyla was born about a year later. Two months premature, she needed intensive care and surgery to mend a cleft palate. Her speech developed late, but she communicated expressively with her blue eyes and winsome smile.
For a while, the little family lived an idyllic life in a farming community outside Chico. But upon returning home from the store one day, they found their house on fire, ignited by a faulty porch light fixture, according to a GoFundMe from the time. They eventually found a new home in Igo, where Zach took care of the property for the elderly landowners in lieu of rent. With its winding streams and abundant animals, the property offered Alaina and Feyla a home for their boundless imaginations to roam.
Alaina and Feyla shared an uncanny connection to nature and critters of all kinds, especially birds. Carolyn Rill, Alaina’s mother, recalls going to wake up her daughter, as a toddler, only to discover her in the coop outside, cuddling her pet chicken.
On their rented property in Igo, the family raised dogs, cats, chickens, a squirrel, a bearded dragon and even a turkey that followed them around like a pet. Lately, Feyla had been catching blue belly lizards, Zach said. She dreamed of becoming a veterinarian when she grew up.
“She was just like a little fairy princess, and they lived out in the woods,” Rill said of her daughter and granddaughter. “Both Alaina and her just loved all animals and insects.”
The two romped together during the day, jumping on the trampoline in the yard, making apple pie for the neighbors or creating art.
The McLeods were making plans in the months prior to the Zogg fire. Zach was exploring education options, hoping to earn some more money to buy a house and eventually put Feyla through school.
Zach recalled a recent chat with his wife about their future: “Alaina said, ‘We’ve always had a beautiful life, and I just have this feeling that it’s going to get even more beautiful,’”
He paused. “I’m quite lost right now, to be honest,” he said. “I’m not really sure what to do.”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.