CAL FIRE crew digs in, saves century-old campground from Caldor Fire

The firefighters defended Camp Sacramento from the flames, which crept within feet of some of camp's structures


Sam Stanton and Dale Kasler
The Sacramento Bee

CAMP SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Call it the miracle of Camp Sacramento.

The century-old family camp run by the city of Sacramento in the Eldorado National Forest survived the Caldor Fire and was still standing Monday, even as cabins and other buildings burned on the other side of Highway 50.

It was an extremely close call. A reporter and photographer from The Sacramento Bee found that the fire crept to within feet of some of Camp Sacramento's structures, located on the south side of Hwy. 50 just shy of Echo Summit, about 90 miles east of the city.

A Cal Fire team defended the city's campground all day Sunday and through the night as the fire raced toward Lake Tahoe. The crew was still out there Monday morning hosing down smoldering areas of the ground around the camp.

As the fire raged on both sides of 50, a Cal Fire team from Santa Clara, Tuolumne and Calaveras counties made their stand at the camp. The Caldor Fire, at 177,260 acres as of Monday morning, incinerated at least a dozen cabins on the north side of 50. But across the road, a five-engine team stopped the fire's approach just feet below the wooden cabins of Camp Sacramento.

The camp is operated by the city under a lease with the Forest Service and has been a beloved vacation getaway for generations of Sacramento area children and their parents and grandparents — a rustic, old-school refuge known for singalongs, s'mores, arts and crafts, archery and more.

"Wow. Wow," said Jackie Beecham, the city's recreation manager, when told by The Bee that the buildings were standing. Until then, she had little information about the camp's status beyond a couple of photos on social media suggesting the property was intact. Camp officials said on Facebook early Monday they were still awaiting word on the facility's fate.

The camp's regular season for families ended in early August. The camp evacuated its staff as a precaution more than a week ago and canceled post-season reservations.

Cole Periera, the Santa Clara unit battalion chief, said the team started its defense of the campground at 8 a.m. Sunday and worked through the night. The crew was still there Monday morning, as were all 61 cabins in the 14-acre grounds.

"Today we'll be in patrol status, making sure everything is mopped up," he said as firefighters attacked spot fires with axes and hoses.

Nothing was even singed at the camp. The fire burned up to the edge of buildings labeled "Boys Crews" and " Craft Shack," but patio umbrellas outside the main lodge, picnic tables with plastic coverings and even the horseshoe pit survived. The dining hall was untouched — along with the giant dinner bell, rung by legions of young campers to signal the start of meals, just outside the building.

The situation was far more dire across the road, where the remains of more than a dozen cabins had melted into piles. Some had only their chimneys standing. Others were buried under their melted steel roofs.

Camp Sacramento's survival marked the second time in two weeks that a spot cherished by the Sacramento community was spared by the Caldor Fire. In its initial run through the Eldorado forest, the fire sidestepped the Sly Park educational center, a 50-year-old campground and environmental learning site run by the Sacramento County Office of Education. The site is visited by thousands of middle-schoolers annually.

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(c)2021 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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