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By David M. Bresnahan

July 3, 2002

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 afternoon.

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," explained Roach.

"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.

"They've had 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 standing.'

"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 range.

"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 locations.

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 occurred.

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 Reserved

David M. Bresnahan  is an award-winning independent investigative journalist. He maintains an archive of his work at  and offers a free e-mail alert so you will not miss any of his news stories or commentaries.