Eight days after the raging Rim Fire swept through the Berkeley-run Tuolumne Family Camp, all but destroying it, city officials visited the site of the conflagration to assess the extent of the damage. Meanwhile a group of camp fans, whose number is swelling by the day, is pulling together to rally support and work with the city to determine what future, if any, the camp may have.
City of Berkeley staff, including Scott Ferris, Director of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront, and loss adjusters from the city’s insurance company, were escorted by the Tuolumne County Sheriff department to the site on Labor Day. The camp is within a forest area that is still closed. Fires are still visible, the city reported in a statement, with some spots still smoldering. “The terrain remains precarious. Nonetheless, we were able to begin assessing the damage,” they wrote.
All the principle camp buildings have been destroyed, including the dining hall, the recreation hall and the amphitheater. (The camp had over 80 buildings before the fire.) The two permanent bridges are now unusable. One of them was still burning at the time of the inspection. (A temporary, seasonal bridge is intact.)
Other areas of the camp are unmarked, however.
“The fire that came through was fast and furious and incinerated everything it touched,” said City of Berkeley spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “But it blew right by other areas.”
In the main camp area, 12 to 16 cabins survived, although they have varying degrees of damage. While in Sun City, the restroom and two tent cabins were untouched.
While many trees burned, some were spared. However all trees will need to be assessed, said Chakko. “Some trees appear green but are in fact heavily damaged and may need to be removed,” he said.
The city said in its statement that it is working with the U.S. Forest Service, local officials in Tuolumne County, its insurance adjuster and others to determine the next steps. “We are currently working to hire a contractor to remove debris. The Tuolumne Family Camp sign and any chairs or items that did not burn will be saved.”
Ferris is also considering options for next summer, Chakko said, although it is too early to say whether Berkeley campers may be offered an alternative location.
Mayor Bates has made clear the city will work closely with the community to work out what actions should be taken going forward. Officials have already held two meetings with board members of the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp (FOBTC) whose Facebook page since the fire has grown to nearly 2,000 followers.
Craig Fendel, a founding member and treasurer of FOBTC, whose family has attended the camp for the past 60 years, said there has been a huge outpouring on interest, evidenced by the memorial that was held in Civic Center Park on Aug. 26 for friends of the camp to mourn its passing.
“Some families have been going to the camp for five generations,” he said. “It’s very sad that this is a tradition that can no longer be carried on.”
FOBTC was founded in 1985 in response to a proposal by the local district to create a dam in the south fork of the Tuolumne River — the result of which would have put the camp under 200 feet of water. “It wouldn’t have burned,” Fendel points out wryly.
Over the past 28 years, FOBTC has been an active advocacy and fundraising group for the camp. It organizes the much-loved annual dinner at the Ahwahnee Hotel for camp staff, partly funded by all the staff tips collected over the season. Needless to say it was canceled this year. “It would have taken place on Sunday Aug. 25, the day the camp burned,” said Fendel. FBTC also hosts an annual fundraiser for the camp on Labor Day and bought individual items such as the camp bell, and an ice machine for the kitchen.
Before they were evacuated, staff gathered many items with sentimental value, including photographs and quilts. Fendel said he would love to know whether the bell survived the flames.
Now the focus for FOBTC is on raising awareness and funds to move forward in collaboration with the city, Fendel said. FOBTC will have a booth at the Solano Stroll on Sunday Sept. 7 and, on Oct. 6, they will recreate the camp’s traditional Saturday night “staff show” at the Berkeley Rep at 4:30 p.m..
The loss of the camp has prompted many to express their emotions publicly, Berkeley author Peggy Orenstein among them. In a column for the San Francisco Chronicle she wrote of her first visit : “I was struck by the warmth of the community, the easy conversations, the way, when a little voice yelled “Mom!” 20 heads swiveled.” She expanded on her thoughts in a Q&A published by KQED.
Meanwhile, the Rim Fire, which has extended over more than 370 square miles, is still burning, though significant progress has been made in taming it. It is currently 80% contained. The cause of the fire is not certain, although an AP report today suggests it could have been ignited by an illegal fire set by a hunter.
Berkeley gathers to remember much-loved Tuolumne Camp (08.27.13)
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)