Dear Friends of Enchanted Hills Camp,
For the last week the extended LightHouse community has been aching to have some ground truth about what will become of our beloved Enchanted Hills Camp.
Today, all roads to camp remain closed, active fires are still burning in the area, and Enchanted Hills remains in the center of the worst wildfire in recorded California history. We now have more substantial information to share about the state of our 311-acre property, and will continue to update you as details emerge.
After a week of continued wind, dry weather and persistent uncontained fires, embers eventually found their way to set fire to our vegetation and eventually the structures of much of lower camp, an area dense with redwoods, camp cabins, staff lodging and our hand-constructed natural Redwood Theater.
Before today, when we were sent new photographs from Napa Supervisor Ryan Gregory, we only had satellite images, which we followed day-by-day, hour-by-hour, as a sea of red encircled our camp. For most of the week the satellite maps showed camp surrounded but unscathed by fire. Though the fire eventually made it onto the property, we believe that our ongoing fire prevention efforts over the past seven years did make a difference during this crucial period.
As far as we’ve learned, most of Upper Camp has survived the devastation, but most of lower camp did not. I want to share as much information as we have today to help our community understand the challenges we face as we rally our resources and guide charitable giving to rebuild Enchanted Hills Camp, stronger than ever.
In the photograph below you can see some of the devastation in lower camp; Ryan Gregory snapped this photo of a Douglas fir tree still actively on fire, and the blackened lower camp landscape behind it.
We know that we lost most of the structures in lower camp, including the 10 cabins that housed up to 120 summer campers since the 1950s. The photo below shows the complete devastation of these cabins, as well as the remains of the Boystown bathrooms. Also in the area, we lost the Assistant Director’s cabin and some storage buildings. The Foss cabin, miraculously, appears to be in tact.
A final and heartbreaking photo shows the remains of our cinder block staff house which up until last week was home for five permanent camp employees. Other storage sheds and outbuildings also took a hit, and there are still some key buildings of which we still await a status update. Our dedicated site staff, who had very little time to rescue their possessions from the threat of fire and are now, like so many others, mourning the loss of their homes.
The good news from Supervisor Gregory’s photographs is that the major capabilities of Upper Camp are still there. The Art Barn and studio are completely intact. So are the Lodge, the Hogan, and the Kiva, shown in the accompanying photos. We have also heard that the large dining hall is in good shape and so are the Lakeside cabins; the photo below is of Lakeside #1. The pool, the horse barn and the gathering house all seem to be standing.
We know from local officials that it may be days or weeks until electrical power is restored to camp. Needless to say we’ll host no groups there for months to come, until the situation is stabilized and the safety from weakened trees and compromised infrastructure is inspected and repaired.
We extend a heartfelt thank you to Napa Supervisor Ryan Gregory of District 2 for personally traveling to Enchanted Hills and taking the time and trouble to photograph the situation while the fires and smoke are thick. EHC could have no truer friend than Ryan.
I want the large and extended LightHouse community to know that we are committed to building back Enchanted Hills Camp stronger and better than ever, both as a summer camp for the blind and a treasured Napa retreat center. The reconstruction of lower camp will give us opportunities to build in accessibility and modern comforts for generations of campers to come. But before that we need to tend to our staff, our operations and the planning, reforestation and construction that likely will occupy us for years to come.
The LightHouse has started a dedicated fund to help rebuild Enchanted Hills stronger and better. Should you wish to help, please follow the link and we’ll be grateful for the same kind of loving pitch-in community support that has kept our camp thriving for 67 years.
Donate to Fire Relief at Enchanted Hills Camp
We also know that we’re still not out of the woods yet. The unburned parts of camp could still fall prey to embers from the hundreds of thousands of burning acres around us. We’ll get contractors on property the moment we’re allowed to protect what we have prior to our reconstruction efforts.
We promise to keep you informed more fully after we have staff on the ground and do a thorough inspection. But in the meantime we are most grateful for the torrent of email, telephone conversations and love hundreds of you have shown over the last week. With such positive energy I know our beloved Enchanted Hills will once again be the remarkable place we all share.
Dear Extended LightHouse Family,
This Friday afternoon we want to conclude the week with news about Enchanted Hills Camp, a few recent photographs, and some emerging stories about how some integral parts of camp survived.
As recently as last night the camp still had numerous smoldering hot spots, but the early morning rains helped enormously to limit the remaining fire danger. Mt. Veeder Road is still closed to all but first responders, an unprecedented 12 days after the fire. We’re hoping that normal Mt. Veeder Road access will be granted early next week. We’re also hoping that the hundreds of PG&E crews will get our neighbors’ electricity up and running again. However, because of the massive burn of our camp wide electrical wiring, it will be months before regular electricity lights any major camp buildings.
n Wednesday our intrepid LightHouse Producer, Camilla Sterne was able to accompany Camp Director Tony Fletcher for a visual inspection of how camp has fared. The results are alarming but hint at how we’ll rebuild in the future.
The strange randomness of fire and the hard work of this week’s firefight can be seen throughout the property. Our new Tactile Art Barn and Woodworking Studio escaped unscathed, but immediately adjacent to it the porta-potty was reduced to dust. A thicket of vegetation burned black right up to the Art Barn but miraculously the barn survived, likely with the help of the dedicated Cal Fire crews who have been on-site for days keeping advancing flames at bay.
Our other new space, the Redwood Grove Theater, is yet another contrast study, with the lovely, accessible stage built by our Napa Kiwanis partners completely destroyed, while many of the hand-carved redwood benches standing proudly to host performances for years to come. For this too, we have our firefighters to thank. As our team entered the beautiful grove, the large redwood trees still offering green needles, they spied a note tacked on the grove’s sign. In the midst of the fire, engine company #98 from Los Angeles Fire Department left us a note at the theater’s threshold: “We saved this, wish we could have saved more.”
There were other victories among the devastation. The Friday before the fire started on Sunday we had just finished re-roofing our entire dining hall with a Class A fire retardant new roof, the first in nearly 40 years. Our team clambered up on the roof to see the new roof unscathed, though with hundreds of small embers which harmlessly burned themselves out on it, surely saving camp’s largest and most valuable structure.
But our team’s visit to camp was a mix of victories and heartbreaking losses. In the accompanying photographs, readers can see the scene of devastation throughout camp. Beyond the loss of all 10 Lower Camp cabins, we’ve discovered that we lost the bridge and most of the benches in the Creekside Lower Chapel, as well as the Kiva bridge. We lost both boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, the massive roller rink building, the new decking, shade structure and bathhouse around our large swimming pool. Our treehouse is gone, as is the Assistant Director’s cabin and all of the structures in the sensory area. Some of our new water lines are destroyed and every standing building is full of choking smoke, contaminating bedding, carpet, ceiling and furniture.
The most aching physical loss may be the large staff house, which burned to rubble, destroying the home of five camp staff and all of their personal possessions. Our camp staff remain, frankly, stunned by their sudden dislocation. The LightHouse is working with them to ensure a smooth transition into new housing as they rebuild their lives away from the property they helped make beautiful.
What our advisors are telling us is that it will be many months before camp will be functional enough to allow our staff to go about the work of rebuilding. Hundreds of precarious burned trees, downed power lines, and toxic building remains all need to be addressed, as well as reconstruction of the electrical, water and waste infrastructure to make camp habitable. For the immediate future, we mustn’t allow the public to visit camp for any reason; our entrance road will be closed and contractors will be charged to turn away all trespassers. Please, for the safety of camp reconstruction, do not make plans to visit until we issue our first community invitation, likely no sooner than summer 2018.
What we need now is creative ideas, heartfelt testimonials and donations. While the cleanup work is a heavy lift, we have seasoned professionals to rely upon, with deep roots in Napa. Once we’ve made camp safe, reinstated electrical wiring, refreshed our water supply and developed a plan for building back, then we will need volunteers: to clean, construct, reforest, and a thousand other preparatory tasks to rebuild lower camp stronger and better than ever.
If you’re moved by Camilla Sterne’s photographs of camp and have the desire and means to help today, you can give through one of the various options below.
Just in the last few days, our friends and neighbors and you have already begun the rebuilding process with us with your thoughtful words and gifts. These contributions will pay for reconstruction, restaffing, and rebuilding not only the structures in Napa, but the spirit of Enchanted Hills that will spring from them in the years to come. For that, we couldn’t be more grateful.
Donate to Fire Relief at Enchanted Hills Camp
Give by phone: Call Jennifer Sachs at 415-694-7333.
Mail / in-person gifts:
LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired
1155 Market St., 10th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
(please write “Rebuild EHC” on the check)
The LightHouse is committed to keeping the community up to date with these periodic updates about our camp and its rebuilding. It is so very empowering to be supported by a community as kind and engaged as ours.
In deep appreciation,
Bryan Bashin, CEO