Rim Fire forces evacuation of Cal Alumni Lair camp


Pinecrest Lake at the Lair of the Golden Bear on the morning of Thursday Aug. 22. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Pinecrest Lake

Pinecrest Lake before the Rim Fire took hold and engulfed more than 60,000 acres of forest and hills. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The Cal Alumni Association’s Lair of the Golden Bear camp evacuated campers and staff on Thursday due to very poor air quality caused by the Rim Fire which is raging in the Yosemite area.

“Right now, we have ash falling from the sky,” Lair director Mike Yaley said from the camp, quoted on the Cal Alumni Association website. Tuolumne County has issued an air quality alert, campers are leaving, and an upcoming Family Weekend had to be cancelled, Yaley said, describing the scene as “dark, orange and kind of gloomy.”

Berkeleyside contributing photographer Nancy Rubin, who has been visiting the Lair since 1952, shared the dramatic photographs shown here. She said on Thursday: “The staff was amazing and the managers kept us informed with updates and then at lunch today announced that due to the air quality we should pack up. I felt so sad for campers who had never been to the Lair before — some traveled from New York, several from Long Beach and everyone had looked forward to the incredible experience that is the Lair. Everyone I talked with said “see you next year” — everyone had a great attitude and understood what had to be done.”

Early afternoon yesterday

Smoke fills the sky over the Lair of the Golden Bear on the afternoon of Wednesday Aug. 21. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The Rim Fire started on Saturday Aug. 17. Since Wednesday, it has nearly quadrupled in size, from 16,000 acres to 63,366 acres acres. As of Thursday, 1,849 firefighters were attempting to control the blaze with little success: at latest count it was only 1% contained. Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency in Tuolumne County on Thursday, a declaration that helps direct money and resources to fight the fire.

Several camps are threatened by the wildfire, which is being described as one of biggest active blazes in the nation. More than 100 students from Berkeley’s Maybeck High School evacuated voluntarily from the  San Jose Family Camp on Tuesday, and both it and Tawonga Camp were then successfully defended by emergency responders when the fire threatened to engulf them. Fire crews made aerial approaches and dropped retardants which caused the fire to burn past both camps, according to Jerry Snyder, spokesman for the Stanislaus National Forest office of the U.S. Forest Service.

The Berkeley-run Tuolumne Family Camp is currently evacuated and under threat.

*Track the fire at the U.S. Forest Service’s website.
*Follow the fire on Twitter using #RimFire
*Follow the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp Facebook page

Berkeley family camp in danger due to escalating wildfire (08.22.13) 
Berkeley’s Tuolumne Family camp closed due to wildfires (08.22.13)
Wildfires put Tuolumne Family Camp on evacuation alert (08.20.13)

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  • JoaquinSantiago

    Quite serendipitous that Berkeleyside’s photographer was at The Lair to capture this sad event. Nancy Rubin’s photos leave no doubt that the camp management did the right thing; her ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots of the lake tell the whole story.

  • andrew johnson

    I just heard that Camp Mather is lost, totally engulfed in flames.

  • mediagrunt

    I don’t believe that to be true. The Groveland Facebook page is a great source of timely updates, and they reported just a few hours ago that Camp Mather had been saved, thanks to the awesome firefighters who are risking their lives up there. Ditto for Tawonga and San Jose Camp. They are trying to save Berkeley Tuolemne Camp now.

  • Barry

    The internet fire maps indicate that the fire may be very close to Evergreen Lodge but it does not seem to indicate that it actually reached Mather Camp as of yet. Berkeley Tuolumne Camp also seems to be still standing according to the recent fire maps (as of Friday 4pm) that I am looking at. But it is clearly a very fast moving and hot fire now and I don’t think anyone down here in the Bay Area can really say with too much certainty what parts of the forest up there are burning or not burning at any given moment.

  • Mira

    Just because the maps show that the fire is in an area, it doesn’t really mean anything for the structures there. The firefighters do very well at defending particular areas/structures, even if the whole thing is too unwieldy for them. Both San Jose Camp and Camp Tawonga are within the fire perimeter but the camps themselves were successfully defended.

  • Michelle

    Just returned from pinecrest dark ash filled days of camping! Pretty overwhelming being in the middle of it, but also an interesting scene.

  • kevin

    We have reservations at Pinecrest over Labor Day, do you recommend we cancel?

  • Michelle

    I would check on Thursday to see what the air quality is like, but I would still go.We had a great time despite the ash.Everything is running as normal just a little quite. Make sure to have a screen room for over the picnic bench!!! Be prepared for a bigger cleaning job when you return, the ash gets into everything.(Car was the worst). The night sky was quite brilliant the colors were crazy around the sun and moon.The water is a bit dirty and dark on the far end of the lake, the swim area seemed to be fine, the kids still swam and walked the logs. we were in the worst of it on Wed, Thursday when the fire first broke out hopefully the worst of the ash fall is done around the lake. I hope you have a great time if you go!!!