Berkeley’s Echo Lake Camp appears to have survived its first brush with the Caldor Fire, with no confirmed reports of damage at the beloved Sierra retreat a day after the massive blaze roared through the area.
But the camp is not yet in the clear, said Scott Ferris, director of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department. Berkeley fire crews are still working to protect the facility as the Caldor Fire burns nearby and sends spot fires onto the property, Ferris said late Tuesday.
“The lodge and the other main buildings … are in good shape at this point,” he said. “There is some relief, but they’re still up there fighting the fire, and that thing still is raging.”
Berkeley families holding out hope for the camp got a rush of relief Tuesday morning from footage posted to Facebook by John Bartell, a reporter for ABC 10 in Sacramento, showing Echo Lake Camp’s dining hall, welcome sign and other structures were all still standing.
“Amazingly, this camp survived here,” Bartell said, adding that several cabins in the area had made it through the night as well.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín wrote on Twitter, “While a more thorough assessment is needed and the danger is far from over, it appears many buildings at Berkeley Echo Lake Camp remain intact.”
Assistant Berkeley Fire Chief Keith May said firefighters “worked throughout the night protecting structures in the camp” and nearby.
“The crews are still battling crown and spot fires on the east side of the camp,” May said Tuesday afternoon, and have received two additional engines and a water supply truck to help in that defense.
The camp’s future was looking much grimmer on Monday.
As strong winds drove the Caldor Fire northeast, forcing a mass evacuation of South Lake Tahoe, a crew of eight Berkeley firefighters who traveled to Echo Lake to mount a defense of the city’s property was forced to retreat temporarily Monday afternoon when conditions became too dangerous.
Many Berkeley families, for whom trips to the camp are a summer tradition, feared they would lose another of the city’s Sierra retreats, much like when the 2013 Rim Fire destroyed Tuolumne Camp near Yosemite National Park.
“It didn’t look good,” said Nicolie Bolster of West Berkeley, whose son and daughter grew up going to Echo Lake Camp. Her grandson joined in the tradition this summer when he attended his first overnight camp there.
“I looked at his pictures yesterday and thought, ‘Will this be the last time?’” Bolster said.
Seeing video of fire trucks parked outside the camp’s intact dining hall Tuesday morning “was a huge relief,” she said.
The Caldor Fire has grown to more than 190,000 acres and threatens more than 30,000 structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. A Red Flag Warning remains in effect for the region until 11 p.m. Wednesday as firefighters work to protect South Lake Tahoe and other populated areas that remain under threat.
Maps of the fire showed Tuesday that it had burned throughout the Echo Lake area.
Although it is not yet clear why Berkeley’s camp was spared, Ferris noted the work of another city fire crew that spent several days at Echo Lake last week clearing defensible space around camp buildings and making other preparations to protect it as the Caldor Fire grew.
“It looked like the whole place should’ve burned,” Ferris said. “Give credit to our fire department, who was up there prepping — I’m sure that made a difference.”