Blown away

Nature remodels Hayden Lake home

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Fred LeClair III recounts the story from Wednesday night when of a 130-foot Ponderosa pine tree came crashing through the roof of his Hayden Lake home and onto the bed he was sleeping in. Several trees were uprooted during the evening storm causing damage to at least seven properties in the Hayden Lake Country Club area.

HAYDEN LAKE - Fred LeClair III woke up to a crash Wednesday night, bleeding, blinded, and having trouble breathing. He was smothered by rock wool insulation, boards and branches from a 130-foot-tall Ponderosa pine tree that had crashed through his roof and on to his bed.

Stunned, and stuck, he listened to his dog, Sugar, in the next room whimpering and barking.

He followed his dog's calls for the direction he needed to crawl as he dug out from the rubble.

LeClair stumbled downstairs, leaving a trail of blood from his destroyed bedroom to the front door of his home on North Gibson Road next to the Hayden Lake Country Club. He had ingested some of the insulation, and he threw up three times after getting outside.

"She saved my life," LeClair said of his 12-year-old best friend, the voice he followed to safety.

Before drifting off to sleep Wednesday night, LeClair said he hadn't heard the wind howl.

In fact, it had been a calm, peaceful evening, he said.

More amazing still, his wife was at her mother's house Wednesday, so LeClair slept on his wife's side of the bed that night.

"I slept on her side so I could watch the TV better," he said. "It would have killed me if I had been on my side."

The tree was one of nearly a dozen tall pines that crashed down Wednesday evening around 9 p.m. due to high winds that blasted across the Coeur d'Alene area for less than an hour. The one that crashed on LeClair's house completely covered the other side of his bed, the side on which he normally sleeps.

"I can't believe I'm alive," he said Thursday, still in shock.

The National Weather Service said the winds, which clocked close to 50 miles per hour in some parts of the eastern Washington and North Idaho region, wasn't a tornado but part of line of storms moving eastward across the two states.

But the destruction seemed to mostly pinpoint several homes along the road next to the golf course, neighbors said, describing the weather as "tornado-like," ripping through the neighborhood in about 10 minutes.

"It was gorgeous out and then it just went black," said Rich Hackett, a five-year Gibson Road homeowner who had wrapped up a round on the links and drove his golf cart back to his house through the storm. "I've seen some pretty big wind storms but this has to be the worst."

Three tree removal companies cleared out the neighborhood on Thursday. The job took the whole day, as several other trees that stood crookedly after the storm needed to be removed, too, said Tim Kastning of Grace Tree Service.

"It was incredibly isolated," he said of the damaged area.

Neighbors spent Thursday talking to their insurance companies.

Damage included neighbor Victor Lewis' guest house, which a collapsed tree smashed, taking out the power lines with it, and the house next to his. Cynthia Taylor, from Pennsylvania, was visiting her friend and Gibson Road resident Joyce Sullivan when three trees smashed down on her 2004 Volvo.

She had plans to drive back home this morning, but the car, totaled now, can't oblige.

"I don't know what I'm going to do now," she said of her travel plans.

Not all of the homes were affected by the falling trees, but LeClair's was the hit the worst. His back his heavily bruised, he was cut on the hands, face, back and feet, and he's still in some pain from it all. He said he had arrangements to live elsewhere, but the house, which he owned for two years and was insured, might have to be knocked down.

Still, he's thankful to be alive, thankful for his neighbors and the emergency response crews who helped him after the ordeal, and thankful for Sugar.

"I wouldn't have made it without her," he said.

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