Nearly one year after 18,000 acre Whittier Fire ripped through the Rancho Alegre Camp in Santa Barbara, the Boy Scouts Los Padres Council celebrated the start of reconstruction on Saturday.
"The fire moved through the entire property in about 30 minutes at extreme heat," said Boy Scouts Los Padres Council CEO Carlos Cortez. "I was told the waves of fire were anywhere from five to 10 feet tall when it was coming through here."
According to Cortez, the fire destroyed 47 of the camp’s 52 structures.
Insurance will likely only cover $9 million of the estimated $16 million in damages, Cortez said. The rest must come from community donations.
Brianna Daniels, whose two sons are Boy Scouts, said it was hard to see the place where years of memories were made wiped out.
"It was devastating, it brought tears to my eyes to think of the memories we had," said Daniels.
Scout leaders, who attended the camp as boys, spoke to the crowd about the spirit and history that remains in the scorched camp.
"Rancho Alegre can burn down 10 times over, but you can never destroy the spirit of friendship and fellowship at Rancho Alegre," said one scout leader.
About 4,000 kids attend the camp for various activities every year, according to Cortez.
With Saturday’s ceremonial groundbreaking, the team of Boy Scouts and Stanctec, the engineers developing the plans, can begin to rebuild.
"It was sad when the fires took it down, very sad," said Noah Cortez, a 10-year-old Boy Scout. "I’m hoping it can be rebuilt quick, but it takes some time.’
Daniels said the silver lining that comes with the rebuild is that the camp will be reconstructed with sustainability in mind and in a more unified fashion than before, when the camp had to be built over the span of many years.
At the same time, the scouts plan to uphold the camp’s rich history.
"We are going to take our history in part and build a memento and memorial around various parts of the camp so people know we’ve been here 52 years and we’ll be rebuilding the next 50 years," said Cortez.
For these scouts, patience and perseverance are just two new qualities to learn.
"You have to be part of a team most of the time, you have to rely on your troop," said Mateo Ferreira, a 12-year-old Boy Scout.
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