Treasures destroyed, threatened by fire

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Treasures destroyed, threatened by fireAs 17,000 firefighters continue to battle 25 major wildfires — which have burned more than 3 million acres, destroyed thousands of structures and claimed at least 25 lives — the impact of the closest fires remain evident, if diminished, for residents in the Indian Wells Valley.

For the second week in a row, our air quality reached unhealthy levels at times, clouding visibility and triggering complications for those with asthma, allergies and underlying respiratory conditions.

The SQF Complex, which resulted when lightning exacerbated and merged the Castle and Shotgun fires, continues to burn northwest of our valley. At press time, some 125,000 acres had burned, with only 12 percent containment achieved.

Like other forests across the state, the affected Inyo and Sequoia remain closed to visitors. However, the fire has already torn through some of the native Sequoia groves and public wildlands in its path.

On Monday, Jordan Lookout, located on Jordan Peak just northeast of Camp Nelson, was destroyed by the flames from the SQF Complex. The historic station had been used as a fire lookout since 1898. The fire-watcher manning it had been evacuated days before the blaze destroyed the structure.

While many landmarks and structures have been compromised or destroyed by the fire, Public Information Officer Mike Cole said that the Trail of 100 Giants is still 9 miles south of the fire.

“We will let people know the specific locations like the ‘Trail’ that are close to the fire whenever we believe those locations may become threatened,” said Cole. “So far, although the Trail is closed and behind a road block, it is not threatened.”

Generations of local Boy Scouts, however, have mourned the destruction of Camp Kern, which was located on the banks of Huntington Lake. The facility was one of the many sites destroyed by the Creek Fire, which has burned some 230,000 acres in the Sierra National Forest. At press time, the blaze was only 18 percent contained.

According to social media posts from Camp Kern organizers, the fire has destroyed the dining hall and all other significant structures. However, the facility was insured and the current plan is to restore the damage.

Longtime Boy Scout leader Jerry Smith recalled the indelible memories forged at Camp Kern for hundreds, if not thousands, of local Scouts.

“It was a formative part of my childhood experience,” said Smith. “I spent a week there every summer from ages 10- to 15-years-old. I cannot even recount the incredible memories I made and the skills I learned.”

Smith noted that during the 1960s and 1970s, there were at least 10 local troops with 20 to 30 members each — most of whom attended Camp Kern. He was among the leaders who brought younger campers in subsequent years to experience everything from “paddling a 10-man canoe to singing silly songs to working on merit badges … that was where lifelong memories were created.”

Cal Fire reported that a warming trend expected over the weekend “brings an elevated fire danger. With no precipitation in sight, California remains dry and ripe for wildfires.”

Regular updates on California fires are posted at Individual incident reports can be accessed through that page.

Travelers planning to visit local wilderness are encouraged to check access before departure.

In addition to closures, the forest service has prohibited the use of any ignition source while fire hazards persist.

Pictured: The rubble left behind after fire tore through Camp Kern. — Courtesy photos

Story First Published: 2020-09-18