Eli Baum’s watch, which was salvaged from the ruins of Tuolumne Family camp: “They knew it was mine because I had listed it along with other items I’d lost in the fire,” he said. “You can still see the logo of the watch company.” Photo: Michael Baum

As summer approaches, scores of Berkeleyans recall the gaping hole in their lives now that the cherished Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp is gone — razed to the ground in August 2013 by the devastating Rim Fire.

One young man was reminded of the wonderful times he had spent at the city of Berkeley-run camp with a jolt this week when he went to sign up to be a counselor at the camp, which this year is being held at Echo Lake, and was told a possession of his had been retrieved from the ashes.

Eli Baum was reluctant to leave Tuolumne Family Camp when it was evacuated last summer. Photo: courtesy Eli Baum

On Monday, Eli Baum went into the camp office to complete the paperwork to be a counselor at Berkeley Tuolumne Camp at Echo Lake. That was when Craig Veramay, camp director, told him something of his had been found in the debris.

It was Baum’s watch, visibly burned, and the hands of which had stopped when the Rim Fire hit.

Baum, like all the other campers, was evacuated from the camp last summer before the fire reached the grounds. He had been reluctant to go, however.

“It was my second year on staff and the place really meant a lot to me. When we had to leave I really did not want to evacuate and it was really hard to go,” the 18-year-old said Wednesday.

Baum’s family were Tuolumne veterans — they started going when Eli was 10, although last year they had visited earlier in the summer, and Eli was there without them when he was evacuated. He was a CIT in 2013 and a two-time staff member.

“The watch was actually found by one of the bathrooms, which is strange because I thought it was on my dresser — so I guess I left it there and forgot about it,” he said.

The Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp was destroyed in the Rim Fire, which started Aug. 17, 2013, and became the third largest wildfire in state history, burning 257,314 acres. The blaze was eventually contained Oct. 24. Investigators concluded the blaze was caused by a hunter’s illegal fire that went out of control.

The city of Berkeley is looking at whether Tuolumne Camp can be rebuilt. It is collaborating with the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp group, whose numbers exceed 2,000 and who maintain an active Facebook page and organize fundraisers. On Monday, April 28, there will be a Music and Table Skits night at the Freight & Salvage which, along with entertainment, will include updates on the camp by Mayor Tom Bates and city officials. Tickets, which cost $5, are still available.

As to what Baum plans to do with the scorched watch, he said: “I’m keeping it as a souvenir and remembrance of camp and my experience there, and as a symbol of survival.”

Support for Tuolumne Camp stretches across the nation (02.06.14)
Berkeley family camp will this year be at Echo Lake (01.27.14)
Berkeley Tuolumne Camp unsafe for visitors, says city (12.20.13)
Council to study $20M parks bond, 10% parks tax boost (12.12.13)
Berkeley Tuolumne Camp supporters push to rebuild (10.16.13)
After the fire: What next for Berkeley Tuolumne Camp? (09.05.13)
Berkeleyans gather to remember Tuolumne camp (08.27.13)
Berkeley to hold a vigil Monday for Tuolumne Family Camp (08.25.13)
Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp appears safe for now (08.24.13)
Rim Fire forces evacuation of Cal Alumni Lair camp (08.23.13)
Berkeley Family Camp in danger due to escalating wildfire (08.22.13)
Wildfires close down Berkeley’s Tuolumne Family Camp (08.22.13)
Breaking: Wildfires put Tuolumne Family Camp on 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...