David M. Bresnahan
EAST FORK OF THE BEAR,
Utah -- Boy Scouts and their leaders were evacuated from summer camp
just before a major forest fire came roaring through on Friday
The fire, which did not
start in the camp, has burned over 5,000 acres as of Sunday night and it
is still raging out of control.
There are four
different camps that are part of the East Fork of the Bear Scout
Reservation located on the edge of the High Uintas Wilderness area in
the Wasatch-Cachce National Forest. The high-altitude camps are nestled
in one of the most scenic areas in the country. It is not uncommon for
Scouts to see moose, deer, elk and other wildlife throughout the area
surrounded by rugged mountain peaks.
The fire roared to life
on Friday afternoon outside the camp, which was immediately evacuated.
Scouts and their leaders left their tents and equipment, got into cars
and drove 7 miles along dirt roads left with a hope and a prayer that
the camps and their gear would be spared.
The Scouts were
complemented for the speed and efficiency of the evacuation of the
camps, particularly because of how fast the fire appeared and then
threatened the camps.
The Scouts could see
the fire roaring around the camp as they left, and everyone feared they
had seen the last of one of the finest Scout camps in the nation. The
fire swept through the area driven by winds that quickly whipped it into
an inferno that looked like all would be lost.
Fire crews flooded the
area from the ground and the air all weekend. Small clusters of vacation
homes in the Christmas Meadows recreation area could be next if the wind
changed. The fire is still burning forcefully and is only about 5
percent under control.
"Last night it was
5,000 acres. It's a wind-driven event as far as we're concerned. The
wind comes up in the afternoons and blows it further to the east,"
"The wind is
pushing it faster than we can try to catch it right now so we're just
trying to secure the lines that we have and we'll hope for a break in
the weather," he said.
Even though fire roared
through the Scout camps on Friday and moved on, crews stayed in the
camps to defend against possible flareups.
pumps, and engines, and hand crews just trying to pick up any spot fires
or take care of anything that might be smoking," said Roach.
"It's still smoldering in places. It will take a long time to mop
it up completely."
Early Monday morning
two troops came back to see if their gear could be retrieved. They were
met by the Forest Service and were given escorts in and out of the camp.
"They were amazed.
Everything was left the way it was. They were able to load all of their
stuff up and leave," said Bill Roach of the Forest Service in a
phone interview Monday. "None of it had been damaged and none of it
had been moved."
Roach said he
personally drove through the camps on Sunday and was amazed at how
little damage there was.
"They've lost a
few out houses and wash stations, and things like that, but the big
structures the dinning hall and main meeting areas - they're still
there," he described. "They have facilities around a 1 acre
lake that's got canoes and life guard racks and things. Those are still
"I'm a Scoutmaster
myself, and I'm thinking as soon as the fire danger passes they could
probably go ahead and occupy most of that camp," he added.
Camp Evergreen has the
most damage. Some staff tents on wooden platforms were destroyed, pine
trees were burned, and there is some scorching of out houses and wash
stands. Most of the buildings are still standing, but there is damage to
the dinning hall roof, shower buildings, a climbing tower, and a rifle
"The pine trees
burned, but some of them where there was no ground fuel around the base
of them did not. Most of the aspen are still in tact," said Roach.
"It's got an ugly
view to the south because that slope did burn, but the camp itself -- I
was amazed. I was expecting to see either a moonscape or something that
looks like a nuclear blast went through it, and that's really not the
case," he said.
Camp Travis is next to
Evergreen and it has similar damage with heavy damage to trees. The
other two camps, Frontier and Tomahawk, have minor damage in the trees
around several camp sites with no damage to camp buildings.
The camps are leased to
the Great Salt Lake Council of Utah by the Forest Service and are
attended by thousands of Scouts each year from other states as well. The
pristine wilderness location makes them a favorite of many.
Scouts who were
scheduled to attend camp beginning today have been accommodated by other
camps operated by the council, which has a total of 14 camps in various
Most of the campers
scheduled for this week were sent instead to Bear Lake Camp. Council
officials were meeting Monday morning to discuss plans for future weeks.
Before the summer camp
season began, council officials made a decision to ban campfires at all
summer camps this season including opening and closing ceremony fires.
The drought conditions prompted the ban. Campsites are equipped with
special fire areas, but the decision to ban fires was made as a
precaution. Several days before the fire broke out the Forest Service
also issued a fire ban.
The cause of the fire
has not been determined, but it appears that it began outside the camps
and came toward the camps very suddenly. Officials have said the fire
was most likely caused by humans since there were no electrical storms
in the area at the time it began.
As long as winds
continue to drive the fire easterly the cabins in the area will be
spared. There are reported to be 228 firefighters in 12 fire crews
battling the blaze with seven fire engines, two air tankers, and three
helicopters as of Sunday. More are expected to arrive today.
The area already burned
covers a path about 1 mile wide and 4 miles long, and it is still
growing. Access to the area has been shut down by the Forest Service.
The dry conditions in
the forest could mean that the fire will burn a very extensive area
before it is over. The rugged terrain makes it difficult to fight on the
ground, so crews are looking to the air for help and not
just from the planes and helicopters.
"We need help from
the weather," said Roach. Utah is experiencing the hottest
temperatures of the year, and no sign of rain.
The Scouts too were
looking for help from above, and it appears their prayers were answered
and their camp has been spared the destruction that could have easily
Those who wish to
donate to the reconstruction effort of the camps may send checks to BSA
Great Salt Lake Council, 525 Foothill Blvd., Salt Lake City, UT 84113 or
call (801) 582-3663.
© David M. Bresnahan - All Rights
David M. Bresnahan [email protected]
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