News from the Mountain Top

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El Dorado Fire Update #11 from Camp de Benneville Pines Executive Director Janet James

Reprinted with permission

September 27, 2020

Dear Campers and Camp Supporters:

The drive up the mountain was emotionally difficult. Hot spots in some places on the mountain shoot up plumes of smoke. One major spot on San Bernardino mountain looks like a volcano erupting. All along the drive the charred remains of manzanita, yucca, scotch broom, pines and oaks are everywhere. Acres upon acres of charred nothingness. Burned logs and branches are along the road, and one can see where Cal Trans has been busy pushing burned limbs, blackened rocks and boulders off to the side. It is an eerie, stark, devastating, and curiously mesmerizing drive up to Angelus Oaks. I just wanted to stop the car in the middle of the road and take pictures. How strange to actually see hiking trails up into the forest, where no forest remains. On several occasions I found myself thinking “What will hold this mountain back when it rains?”

I attended a meeting with San Bernardino County Fire officials yesterday in Angelus Oaks. The news was not surprising.

  • Cal Trans will be working to improve culverts over the next two months and road closures on Hwy 38 may last from a few hours to several days each time they work on another section.
  • Mud flows and rockslides will be ongoing problems each and every time it rains.
  • There are still hot spots up on the peaks and with the expected winds over the next few days, some fire crews will remain in the area.
  • Angelus Oaks residents remain on evacuation alert until the wind event is over.
  • The El Dorado fire consumed 22,000 acres of forest and wilderness. To visualize the size of the area, think of 22,000 football fields of burned trees.
  • USFS fire officials and County engineers will be out accessing dangerous rock and water flow areas over the next 2 weeks.

Of importance was the official thank you from community members to so many fire crews and hot shot teams from areas near and far. As I was driving to camp, I saw fire crews and rigs from Santa Barbara, Ventura, Loma Linda, Big Bear, Yucaipa, Redlands, San Diego. I pulled over whenever it was safe to do so, and I personally thanked the fire weary warriors.

fire crew
San Bernardino County Fire Crew that worked so hard to save Camp.

Along this drive, I couldn’t help but feel relieved that most of the trees along the highway are still standing and alive. It gave me hope for Jenks Lake Road. But around many of the bends where I had a clear view of the mountain top, I could only see the smoldering remains of trees. And I realized that the park-like drive was only a screen hiding the real truth. Again, the thought “What will hold this mountain back when it rains?”

Coming around the curve to the Jenks Lake Loop I saw a large group of fire fighters resting under some shade. I stopped to thank them. When they found out I worked at de Benneville Pines they were happy to tell me they had saved our camp. And I was beyond pleased to meet the crew members who fought so hard to save our cabins. As it turns out, Fire Captain Jett Schuster was in the group, and I thanked him to the moon and back for texting me personal updates from the fire front. I told him I had been sharing his texts with over 4,700 campers and supporters. The crew looked pleased to know that the camp they had saved was an important place to so many. They asked if they could one day retreat at our camp. Gosh, I do believe we can work that out Captain Schuster and crew!

fire captain
Fire Captain Jett Schuster from the San Bernardino Country Fire Department.

The drive up Jenks Lake Loop looks fairly green and lush, and one has to look into the woods to see where the fire took off in the direction of our camp. The fire came into camp on the west side above Cabin 3 and wanted to naturally burn the maintenance area and travel down into camp. The fire fighters had a battle on their hands to push the fire back behind the upper cabins. The fire came across the hill behind these buildings; and between Cabin 6 and Craig’s Cabin it came down to the camp road (across from the swimming pool). It whipped around to the northeast after burning past the Staff Cabin, traveling down around the Pavilion. It burned the forest between the Pavilion and the creek and was stopped short of the Coffee House/Office.

Miles of yellow and white fire hoses are in and around camp. Some hoses are still attached to the hydrants. A few crew members were in and out of camp today checking on hot spots, and I could hear the sounds of chain saws running up in the burn area. The crews were dealing with burned and dangerous trees. Our water tanks ran dry after the stored water was all used up. The fire burned through the wooden structure that supports the water pipe across a deep culvert. When the structure burned, the pipe could not support itself and fell to the ground broken. Frank Haahr, maintenance supervisor, has already rigged up a bypass so our tanks can fill again.

The walk from the Staff House across to Maintenance was tearful. I was relieved to see the buildings intact, but the idea of the loss of our green belt between camp and the Lake Fire burn area fills me with worry. Remember, it is the duff (decaying vegetable matter on the ground of a forest) that helps to hold back the mud and water when it rains. With two feet of duff turned to ash, we will have to mobilize quickly to fill sandbags and place them in strategic locations. I am in conversation with our civil engineer and the USFS about next steps.

Rock with plaque
This rock is on the edge of the camp road between Craig’s Cabin and Cabin 6. You can see how close the fire came and the loss of the duff we need to prevent flooding and mudslides.

This rock is on the edge of the camp road between Craig’s Cabin and Cabin 6. You can see how close the fire came and the loss of the duff we need to prevent flooding and mudslides.

Please know that your beloved camp looks perfect in so many ways. The forest and drive up into the parking lot look green and thriving. Once in the parking lot, the view up to the mountain above the camp reveals the truth. Thousands of acres of forest are gone.

In the weeks prior to the fire, employee Ed Bagdon was assigned to check out all of camp’s fire hoses by running water through them. During this process of checking for leaks, he decided to shoot the water at the base of the cabins in order to chase the leaves and pine needles out of their hiding places. Because of this decision, 100% of the ground around each cabin was free of debris for about 12 feet. This decision essentially made the difference to structure protection in our camp. Strange how these things play out. Earlier in the year we had over 200 trees pruned away from structures by a professional tree service.

Please click here for a slide show of my drive up the mountain to camp, and my walk in the ashy woods. I concentrated on taking photos of the burn areas since all of our buildings are intact and look as you remember them. I am in contact with our insurance inspector. He will be in camp this week to assess for smoke damage.

As I was walking down from the water tower I had a chance meeting with Jeff James (no relation) who was in camp with his GoPro streaming live for Redlands Buzz. Employees Niki Giberson and Frank Haahr came over to meet Jeff, and we applauded his daily live coverage of the fire. Day after day, Jeff drove up from Redlands and bounced down mountain roads to film the fire crews. His daily journeys and his posts gave us an inside view of the fire situation. Jeff said that “UU’s are a chatty bunch” and laughed. He shared that many camp supporters had reached out to him directly with stories of their days at camp, and they were not shy about asking him to return to our camp each day for more video updates.

fallen burned tree

Folks, this was a very close call, and I know you are all feeling relief in knowing that your camp is still intact. Your love for camp is great and it is clear you want to see it protected for generations to come; and it will be! We will need your volunteer labor filling sand bags and your donated dollars to pay for straw bales to be placed upon the hill from one end of camp to the other. Your financial support will be needed indeed. And then it will be needed again, and again, and again if we are going to make it through this crisis.

It is clear to me that you are the caretakers of camp’s legacy, and as such, the stewards of its future. Your collective heart lives upon this mountain top, now five generations strong. I look forward to the day when you will return to this place you hold so sacred.

I will be back with another update as I know more, but I imagine it will be a few days out.

Janet James and Daisy Doodle
Janet James
Executive Director
Your Beloved Camp

Watch a quick video of Janet, Niki and Frank filmed by videographer Jeff James.

Nikki, Frank, and Janet

Janet’s Photo Tour of Camp

Keep the spirit of de Benneville Pines and yoUUr faith alive in your heart.

Our Contact Information
Camp de Benneville Pines
Janet James, Executive Director
(909) 435-6298 (c)
Laura Chamberlin, Registrar
Marianne Shuster, Outreach Coordinator
41750 Jenks Lake Rd. West
Angelus Oaks, CA 92305
(909) 794-2928

1 thought on “News from the Mountain Top”

  1. Pingback: UUs Step Up for Camp de Benneville Pines – UUSM NEWSLETTER

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