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Rancho Alegre Leaders Plan to Rebuild After Whittier Fire Destruction

Boy Scouts of America Los Padres Council officials hope insurance payments, community contributions will help camp come back better than ever

The Boy Scouts of America’s Los Padres Council plans to rebuild the Rancho Alegre camp and Outdoor School, which burned in the Whittier Fire in the Santa Ynez Mountains. Click to view larger
The Boy Scouts of America’s Los Padres Council plans to rebuild the Rancho Alegre camp and Outdoor School, which burned in the Whittier Fire in the Santa Ynez Mountains.  (Ray Ford / Noozhawk file photo)

Wildfire brings devastation, but out of the ashes can grow new life.

That’s exactly what the Boy Scouts of America’s Los Padres Council is planning to do with its Rancho Alegre camp and The Outdoor School, where more than 90 percent of the structures were lost to the Whittier Fire on July 8.

“Even though we lost our structures we didn’t lose any lives, and that’s the most important thing. If the fire had been either 24 hours earlier or later, this might be a different story,” said Carlos Cortez, executive director of the Boy Scouts council.

That Saturday morning, just a few hours before the fire broke out, a group of younger Scouts left the camp. The next day, another round of older scouts were due to arrive.

“We did have staff that lived at the camp, but luckily most of them have other houses to stay or family nearby to be with. No one is without a shelter,” Cortez said.

“As soon as we can, we want to start rebuilding. We want to hit this hard and hopefully get camp going again next summer,” he added.

This is the 52nd year for the Boy Scouts at the 213-acre camp off Highway 154 across from Lake Cachuma. Activities and education there included swimming, rowing, campfires, archery, star gazing, hiking, crafts, camping skills, and lessons about animals and plants, among others.

The Outdoor School that also uses the camp serves more than 4,000 fifth-grade and sixth-grade students each year, hosting day trips and overnight programs. Some schools spend multiple days using the outdoor education program, which is geared toward nurturing community and environmental stewardship.

The only buildings spared from the Whittier Fire were the dining hall, the pool area, the barbecue building and a small cabin; 27 structures were destroyed.

A week after the fire swept through, Cortez said, he hadn’t yet been allowed to return to assess the damage fully, because the fire-weakened trees were still dropping limbs.

“We are insured, and hopefully most of the costs of rebuilding will be covered, but we are really thankful to the community for stepping up and wanting to help us,” Cortez said.

The Whittier Fire destroyed most of the buildings at The Outdoor School and Boy Scout Camp at Rancho Alegre. Click to view larger
The Whittier Fire destroyed most of the buildings at The Outdoor School and Boy Scout Camp at Rancho Alegre.  (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department file photo)

With most of their buildings lost, Cortez said, this is the time to make the camp facilities even better than they were before.

“We want to include more ‘green’ practices, like installing solar panels and finding other ways to be more environmentally friendly. It’s really a blank canvas, and we want to make the science center even better with a lab for testing and analyzing data,” he said.

His enthusiasm spreads beyond the Boy Scouts to the Outdoor School, which he wants to have more community involvement and family use.

“Of course I’ve gotten tons of phone calls from our Scouting community to pitch in and get dirty,” he said. “They are excited to rebuild.”

Cortez said he welcomes a conversation with anyone who has ideas to rebuild the camp. He can be reached at [email protected]

Los Padres Council is a recognized 501(c)(3) charity, so financial contributions are tax deductible. Visit the website for more information about the rebuilding campaign.

Raiza Giorgi is owner and publisher of the Santa Ynez Valley Star.

The Boy Scouts of America Los Padres Council invited the Scouting community to help re-build Rancho Alegre. Click to view larger
The Boy Scouts of America Los Padres Council invited the Scouting community to help re-build Rancho Alegre. (Contributed photo)

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