From Long Beach area, Boy Scouts monitor fate of camp in El Dorado fire zone

Boy Scouts in the organization’s Long Beach council are relying on bits of information, such as a video of a quick drive-through, to assure them that their mile-square Camp Tahquitz near the El Dorado fire is still standing, a group leader said Sunday.

A small group of Boy Scouts walk past a sign at Camp Tahquitz in the San Bernardino National Forest on Monday, July 27, 2015. The camp is owned by the Long Beach Area Council Boy Scouts of America serving thousands of boys from the greater Long Beach area and surrounding councils since 1959. (File photo by John Valenzuela, The Sun/SCNG)

And there was good news Sunday afternoon: “Due to the heroic efforts of the fire crews, it appears that camp has been spared thus far!” the Long Beach Area Boy Scouts Council’s Facebook page posted.

The camp, mostly closed by COVID restrictions since March and completely evacuated shortly after the El Dorado fire began Sept. 5, is in the Barton Flats area along Highway 38, along with several other campgrounds, just east of  Angelus Oaks, also shut down by the fire in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Sunday morning, the fire had burned 22,489 acres and containment was at 59%. Containment is when firefighters create and hold a fire break around the perimeter of a wildfire. A firefighter died Thursday while fighting the blaze, and had not yet been identified by authorities.

The wildfire early Monday took off in the direction of the highway as well as  the communities and campgrounds along it, when there was a sudden rise in temperature and the wind kicked up.

“It got right to our back door, that’s for sure,” John Fullerton, executive director of the Long Beach Area Council, said Sunday.

One thing that might have helped save the camp was fire abatement work that coincidentally took place on the south end of Tahquitz, along Jenks Lake Road. With coronavirus restrictions in place, the work started in late spring “which we wouldn’t have been able to do if camp had been in session,” Fullerton said.

The work was done in the area that faces the El Dorado fire.

“Those folks have been doing tons of fuel reduction, so the whole camp looks pretty good — it’s easily defendable,” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kate Kramer said earlier in the week.

The abatement wrork was underwritten by  a $200,000 grant, and was done by local foresters, who were then called to duty to fight the El Dorado fire, Fullerton said.

And it has been word from them, when they have a chance to send it, along with occasional quick videos sent along, that has reassured the Long Beach Council that the camp remains.

“We get communications from them, and from some retired firefighters hooked into other networks,” Fullerton said. “It’s very limited information, because everybody is spread out all over the place.”

In non-Covid times, the camp would normally host about 100 people every weekend in the fall. During the summer months there would be 200 to 300 people weekly at the camp, which was established in 1959, Fullerton said.

The camp is not out of danger yet, Fullerton noted, but remains in good shape “as long as the weather continues to cooperate, and wind winds stay down.”

He said word that a firefighter died in battling the blaze “cast a pall over feeling celebratory” over the survival of the camp so far. “All of us are distraught over the loss of life … we are very appreciative of all the things the fire crews have done,” he said.