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Flames ambush man `who could do anything'

Mark Loutzenhiser was a career firefighter and the kind of man people counted on to get them out of tight spots.

October 27, 2006|Ashley Powers, Christopher Goffard and Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writers

In Idyllwild, as news of Loutzenhiser's death sank in, people who had known him and his family for years tried to comprehend the scope of the loss. Marge Muir, a Realtor, recalled a time in the mid-1980s when Loutzenhiser's father was spearheading an effort to create softball fields in town. At the time, she said, Loutzenhiser was an energetic, blond, blue-eyed youth "with a cheery smile that made you feel good just looking at him."

Another Realtor, Emily Pearson, a 49-year resident, worked with Loutzenhiser's mother, who was a cook at a downtown Idyllwild restaurant. She remembered that Loutzenhiser worked for her husband cutting trees.

"It's so unfair that someone has the power to take away the lives of people who were trying to do good things," she said.

Nearby, Cindy Allert, a resident of 40 years, sat in her Idyllwild beauty salon watching fire coverage on a portable TV. "We're just stunned," she said. "Mark and my boys went to school together at Idyllwild elementary."

She shook her head, staring at the TV, and muttered: "Sadness. Immense sadness."

At the Red Kettle, a popular gathering place in the town of 3,400, the talk was about the tragedy. Everyone there had crossed Loutzenhiser's path at one time or another. Waitress Pat Allen was tending the cash register when a customer told her what had happened.

"I had a restaurant full of customers and evacuees, so I couldn't lose control," Allen said. "I had to keep it together and pour coffee and serve breakfast. But I couldn't stop wondering, there goes one of our heroes. Who's going to take care of us now?"

Throughout his life, photographs of Loutzenhiser swinging a bat, playing volleyball or kicking a kickball frequently appeared in the Idyllwild Town Crier, the town's newspaper. Publisher Becky Clark said that there were already plans Thursday afternoon to raise funds for the families of the firefighters who lost their lives.

"Word of the tragedy moved like this through the town this morning," she said, snapping her fingers in rapid succession.

"It's a damn heartbreak for this community. We're pretty tightknit up here. Maria and her kids will be smothered with love."

christopher.goffard@

latimes.com

ashley.powers@latimes.com

louis sahagun@latimes.com

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