Rim Fire
The Rim Fire, which has caused the closure of Berkeley’s Tuolumne Family Camp, started on Aug. 17 and has spread to an area of more than 16,000 acres. It was 5% contained by Aug. 21. Photo: Steve Ryan/CC

The Berkeley-run Tuolumne Family Camp has been closed indefinitely due to wildfires in the Yosemite area. The U.S. Forest Service issued an official evacuation notice on Wednesday, although campers and staff at the camp had already evacuated voluntarily yesterday and in previous days.

Other camps in the vicinity that have been ordered to evacuate include San Jose Family Camp, from where 110 students at Berkeley’s Maybeck High School voluntarily evacuated on Wednesday, and Camp Tawonga.

The city of Berkeley posted an alert on its website yesterday to say Tuolumne Family Camp was closed through Aug. 25 and possibly beyond. Refunds are being issued for campers who evacuated early, as well as to those who had planned to be there in coming days.

Screen shot 2013-08-22 at 12.06.17 AM
The fire area, as on Aug. 21. The Berkeley Family Camp is just off the map to the east on Harden Flat Road. Source: U.S. Forest Service

Families who left on Aug. 19 described the air has being smoky with a light dusting of ash falling from the sky.

Tuolumne Camp was operating on a generator before it was evacuated, and had lost its phone service. By Monday afternoon, two days after the fire started, power was out in some of the camp’s bathrooms and the dining room, according to Holly Taines White, commenting on Facebook. Many of the staff and CITs (counselors-in training) who were working at the camp went to higher ground to get cell coverage to call home, their families said.

The Rim Fire, which began on the afternoon of Aug. 17 in the Stanislaus National Forest west of Yosemite National Park, now covers more than 16,000 acres. The fire has been moving up the Tuolumne River and crossed Highway 120. A total of 858 firefighting personnel, including some seconded from Alameda County, are fighting the blaze on the ground and from the air. (Berkeley Fire Department deployed crews to help today). Inaccessible, steep terrain and the behavior of the fire are making their work difficult. Two homes and seven outbuildings have been burned down, and approximately 2,500 structures are threatened to the west of the fire, north of Highway 120. At around 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the Rim Fire was 5% contained.

The city was in regular contact with the Forest Service to monitor the situation and, once it made the decision to bring CITs home on Tuesday afternoon, called families with relatives working at the camp. It followed up with an an email update while the CITs were on their back to Berkeley. Many hours before the first communication from the city, however, parents were sharing information via an email group, and the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp Facebook page, as well as visiting city offices to talk to staff directly. The camp itself does not have a Facebook page or Twitter account.

As they left, some staffers, concerned about the potential threat to the much-loved camp, took with them items such as hand-painted signs, maps, quilts and photographs, some of them dating back many decades. The camp was established in 1922.

Track the fire at the U.S. Forest Service’s website.
Follow the fire on Twitter using #RimFire

Wildfires put Tuolumne Family Camp on evacuation alert (08.20.13)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...