Berkeley to hold vigil Monday for Tuolumne Family Camp


The Berkeley-run Tuolumne Family Camp, which, according to several reports, burned Sunday. Photo: Sonny Abesamis/Creative Commons.


The Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp are organizing a memorial gathering in honor of the lost camp tonight, Monday, at 8pm at Berkeley’s Civic Center Park, next to the Berkeley Parks and Recreation Center. “Bring candles, wear your BTC shirts, and be prepared to sing as we celebrate this amazing camp which has brought happiness to countless families since 1922,” they write.

Meanwhile, the city of Berkeley has not yet been able to access the site of the fire to evaluate the damage. The site is still described as an active fire, said City of Berkeley spokesperson Matthai Chakko, who confirmed the camp did have insurance.


Footage from ABC7News shows that the Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp was destroyed by the Rim Fire, which swept through the area Sunday, Aug. 25:

Reporter John Austin described the camp as being “obliterated” with “virtually every building and cabin gone.” Cal Fire Capt. Martin Gill told ABC7 News that a crown fire ran into the camp at 2-3 p.m. Sunday. As the top of the area’s tall trees burned, embers fell onto the site.

Ariel Nava, a former Berkeley Tuolumne Camp staff member and camper, has started a Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp Photo Memorial page on Facebook for campers and staff to share photographic memories/history of BTC. The page already as more than 430 followers.

Like many Berkeleyans who share fond memories of their time at the camp, Nava said he was heartbroken about its destruction. He said he had been going to BTC since he was a child, worked on staff for four summers while he was in high school, and met his wife while working there. “I have been taking my daughters to BTC since they were 2 and 5 months old. I am deeply saddened by the loss of such an amazing place that has given so many people so much joy over the past 92 years.”

Original story, Aug. 25: The Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp burned down today, Sunday, Aug. 25, according to the East Bay Express which spoke to John Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service. The news was on the Friends of the Berkeley Tuolumne Camp Facebook page, several of whose members said they had spoken to the Forest Service.

It is not clear whether the camp was entirely destroyed, or whether some structures might remain. Calls by Berkeleyside to the Forest Service had not been returned at press time. A spokesperson for the city of Berkeley, which runs the 91-year-old camp, was not able to confirm the news Sunday evening.

Writing on the Seven Days blog in the Express, Robert Gammon said: “Very bad news tonight for the thousands of East Bay families who are fans of Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp. It burned down today, according to John Miller, spokesman for the US Forest Service. Owned and operated by the City of Berkeley, the beautiful and popular camp along the Tuolumne River near Yosemite National Park has been around since 1922. But today, it was the victim of the massive Rim Fire, which is still burning out of control in the Sierra.”

Screen shot 2013-08-25 at 9.42.18 PM

A map showing the perimeter and coverage of the Rim Fire, published Aug. 24 by the Forest Service on its Incident website. Berkeley Family Camp is to the south, on Harden Flat Road

The Rim Fire, now in its eighth day, has now extended to cover 133,980 acres. A total of 2,846 fire crews are fighting the blaze, which is only 7% contained.

In its latest update on its website, posted today, the Forest Service reported that “increased activity developed on the eastern edge of the fire with very active burning inclusive of rapid rates of spread, torching and spotting.” The site of the Berkeley camp is on the east of the previous Rim Fire perimeter.

Berkeleyside will provide more details when we have them.

*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 Tuolumne Family Camp appears safe for now (08.24.13) 
Berkeley’s Tuolumne Family camp closed due to wildfires (08.22.13)
Wildfires put Tuolumne Family Camp on evacuation alert (08.20.13)

Want to get breaking news quickly? Follow Berkeleyside on Twitter and download the free Berkeleyside iPhone app.

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  • yaya

    I predict that the citizens of Berkeley will rebuild this camp using their abundant creativity and a sustainable ethic. I suspect that the river is the most attractive feature of this site and it is not going away. I look forward to seeing what Berkeley brings forth from the ashes.

  • Eli

    I am extraordinarily grateful that no one has been seriously hurt in this fire. “The last straw” I was referring to is our failed forest management practices. Suppressing fire in a land that depends on it, leads to catastrophe. Slow burning ground fires are the natural way of things in the mixed conifer forest where camp resided. Every few years, the duff layer, brush, and dead branches would be cleared by such low intensity fires, creating a healthier forest. Fires that explode due to 100 years of ground and ladder fuel accumulation are not natural in the least bit. Due to the piles of debris, such fires become hot enough that they climb into the canopy, and jump from one old growth tree to the next. These fires burn at such high temperatures they can actually sterilize the soil, and obliterate the soil’s bank of seeds. It should have been a priority to create defensible space, and reduce the fuel loads in and around camp. That is proper management. Regular prescribed burns of areas that need frequent fire to stay healthy is proper management. The forest service needs more money to make this possible.

  • Eli

    Unfortunately, the trees will take at least 100 years to grow as majestic as they were (presuming most of them likely have been killed by the crown fire).

  • Eli

    Based on the damage in the center of the camp, the forest is going to need an awful lot of help from some friends. I majored in forestry in college and am a certified arborist. Additionally, I consulted with my brother, who is a USFS fire fighter. Unfortunately, the fire that Berkeley Camp experienced most likely killed a large percentage of the trees (maybe even 90+%). Presumably some trees did survive, and those will be able to drop their seed and help reestablish a canopy. That being said, if there are only one or two live trees per acre, we definitely are going to want to go in there and plant seedlings to help the forest along. The five main conifer species of tree in the mixed conifer forest at Berkeley Camp are relatively slow growing. I would expect growth rates of 1-2ft maximum per year. At that rate, if we re-planted, we could hope to see a decent looking, not very tall forest in about 20 years. I think re-planting should be a part of the restoration at camp. I would also recommend creating a more diverse forest than currently exists. Some areas could feature early successional species, like ceanothus, manzanita, and mountain misery. Other areas, where we replant trees, could jump straight to a climax forest. This would also allow for a greater diversity of plant and animal life in the area.

  • Dan Butterfield

    Eli … Thanks for the thoughtful reply. 20 years sounds like an eternity… but it will pass by quickly and camp might perhaps be semi restored (habitable) more quickly. Hoping

  • Eli

    Sure thing Dan! I am holding out hope that the high intensity part of the fire was mostly in the center of camp. A good sign is that there appeared to be live trees in the distance, in a few of the photos. Also, I have not heard any reports about the cabins uphill from the dinning hall or down the river. It might be fun to watch as our plant restoration efforts in the center of camp slowly make an impact, and the trees grow taller over the years.

  • Eli

    Agreed. There is potential a plant/habitat restoration gold mine.

  • look, nature!

    “life is change / how it differs from the rocks”

  • suckatash

    True. Sometimes things have to be done for the sake of great-grand-children and not ourselves.

  • emraguso

    If you’re interested in the future of Tuolumne Camp, here’s the update we just posted:

  • Steven Kennedy

    Peter…. I’ve been working on a fire safety & environmental video since 1993 that was specifically designed to prevent another Oakland Hills Fire. Will you advocate for a screening at the new camp, if I can find the funding to create it next summer? I have applied to El Dorado County’s Citizens Advisory Fish & Game Commission for token support. The script etc is on the web at dub dub dot Canonbal dot org

  • Steven Kennedy

    Your comments and criticisms on “The Cannonball Express” are welcome.