An estimated 300 people gathered Monday night in the heart of Berkeley to share memories of their time spent at Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp. The city-run camp was obliterated Sunday in the Rim Fire that continues to rage in the Yosemite area.
Many of those who showed up to Civic Center Park — some wearing the camp’s famous tie-dye T-shirts and some holding candles — had vacationed at the Sierra camp over several decades, often spanning several generations of families. There were happy reunions, and not as many tears as might have been expected. Instead, rousing camp-fire songs, according to Berkeleyside contributing photographer Ted Friedman who took the photos shown here.
“It was the happiest place on earth,” one participant said.
Elaine Slusser Guyon has 50 years of memories of the camp which, she said, would help “keep her going.” Writing on the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp Facebook page, whose followers organized the celebration/memorial, she said: “My dad worked at camp as a teenager and his stories are still and always will be with me…. We all lost a family member. Let’s hope there won’t be any red tape in rebuilding our beloved camp.”
Margaret Ridgway Wurm met her husband, Les, at the camp in 1976. He drove down from Ukiah yesterday and picked up their daughter Hilary and her husband Russell in Petaluma. The two couples went to camp together this year. “So glad I went [the the memorial gathering],” wrote Ridgway Wurm on the Facebook page. “Though the healing process will be slow, it was good to share it with so many.”
In a statement issued Monday, the City of Berkeley confirmed that most structures on the camp’s site had burned. The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s department sent deputies to inspect the site Monday morning and planned to provide an update to the City.
“Throughout this emergency, City of Berkeley camp staff members dealt with the situation with great poise, ensuring the safety of campers and staff and the preservation of camp history,” the statement read. “Many important historical documents, such as photographs, wall hangings, the camp’s famous ‘tent chart’, and many other irreplaceable items were saved.”
All campers and staff had left the camp by Tuesday Aug. 20, before a mandatory evacuation order was issued.
A spokesperson for the city said the camp was insured, but that officials had not yet had the opportunity to evaluate the damage in order to decide what steps to take next.
The Rim Fire, which began on Saturday Aug. 17, has now burned an estimated 179,481 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Yesterday, fierce winds caused the blaze to push forward on two fronts, threatening the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and at least three local towns: Tuolumne, Twain Harte and Ponderosa Hills. A total of 3,752 of fire personnel are battling the conflagration which is being described as the 13th-largest fire in California history. At latest count it was 20% contained.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized the use of federal funds to assist the state to combat the fire. FEMA funding is available to reimburse up to 75 percent of the eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant for managing, mitigating and controlling the fire.
Meanwhile, supporters of the camp are already rallying to help efforts to rebuild the much loved camp. A Rebuild Berkeley Tuolumne Camp Facebook page has been created. Its founders say they will work closely with the City of Berkeley in the coming days and months “to determine how we can move forward and help with recovery efforts.”
Last night’s celebration ended at around 9:45 pm with people forming a circle and singing a song: a camp version of Taps. The send-off cheer could be heard blocks away.
Rim Fire destroys Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp (08.25.13)
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)