Monday, August 26, 2013

Residents Mourn Destruction of Berkeley Family Camp Incinerated by 'Rim Fire'

BERKELEY — Memories of summer fun in the mountains became even more precious Monday as families absorbed the news that the city-run Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp was incinerated by the massive Rim Fire near Yosemite on Sunday.
Most of the 80 buildings including 72 tent cabins burned at the 91-year-old camp on the south fork of the Tuolumne River, said city spokesman Matthai Chakko. It opened in 1922 on Highway 120, seven miles west of the entrance to Yosemite, 
David Kojan, a Berkeley native who visited the camp regularly with his wife and two young sons, said the fire at the camp affected his whole family. 
“Our family is feeling pretty devastated because we have so many happy memories there, and it was a place we always look forward to returning,” said Kojan “I don’t know if it even should be rebuilt, and it’s pretty amazing that it hadn’t burned down years ago. But it still really sucks. I can only imagine the hand-wringing and conflict that is about to be unleashed in Berkeley as the city decides what to do next.”
Stephanie Agnew, a Berkeley resident who started going to the camp six years ago when her son was 3 years old, said her family is “heartbroken.”
“How do you ever get back what you had there?” Agnew said Monday. “It was in the most beautiful setting. They unpack you, they take care of you, they feed you. Nobody has any expectations of anybody else.”
When she visited this year, Agnew said she spent most of the time on her balcony with her new baby girl, moving only when a bell rang for meals while her son ran around the camp.
The Rim Fire has burned 149,780 acres and was 15 percent contained as of 8 a.m. on Monday morning, said U.S. Forest Services spokesman Dick Fleishman. The fire was reported to be 7 percent contained on Sunday night, said Fleishman, adding that “crews there have done some very productive work.”
Chakko said Berkeley campers with reservations from Aug. 19 through Aug. 30 will get full automatic refunds and do not need to contact the city. Those who were evacuated Aug. 20 in the middle of their stays will get partial refunds, he said.
A city of Berkeley statement said when the camp was evacuated, employees saved “many important historical documents, such as photographs, wall hangings, the camp’s famous ‘tent chart’ and many other irreplaceable items.”
When Berkeley leaders were getting ready to open the camp in 1921, famed architect Bernard Maybeck was one of the locals dispatched to the area to finalize the site, news reports at the time said. 
A room and food at the camp cost $1 a day in 1922 and 60 cents a day for children. A roundtrip train ticket cost an extra $15.
“The camp is not a sanitarium, a charitable institution or a fashionable resort,” said a press statement announcing the opening of the camp from the office of Berkeley Playground Supervisor George Hjelte at the time. “It is a democratic vacation place for the people of Berkeley who love outdoor life in the Sierras.”
Berkeley resident Kate McGlashan remembered good times at the camp Monday.
“For us it meant a vacation in which all four family members were enjoying themselves,” McGlashan said. “The kids love being feral there. We did have a fight one year when my husband went missing:  He was supposed to be at a cocktail party with a bunch of really nice, fun people, and I finally found him at a different cocktail party with a different bunch of equally nice, fun people. That is pretty much the Tuolumne adult experience.”
Another Berkeley camp, the Lair of the Golden Bear, canceled its annual Oski Family Weekend because of the fire, but the Lair and the Pinecrest Chalet were not in danger from the fire, officials said.
Also evacuated earlier this week were the San Francisco-based Jewish summer camp Camp Tawonga, also located near Groveland, and the San Jose Family Camp in the Groveland area. 
Contact Doug Oakley at 510-843-1408. Follow him on Twitter at

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