The Outdoor School and the Boy Scout camp at Rancho Alegre were mostly destroyed Saturday in the early hours of the Whittier Fire, which ignited along Highway 154 near Lake Cachuma and caused mass evacuations of campers and residents as it raged out of control.
Most of the Rancho Alegre buildings reportedly burned to the ground, except for the main dining room.
The 213-acre site is the home of the Boy Scouts of America’s Los Padres Council, and this year marks the 52nd year that the scouts have been camping at Rancho Alegre, at 2680 Highway 154 across from Cachuma.
Summer camp was scheduled to start Monday, but Los Padres Council officials said the program has been canceled, obviously.
“We are in the process of notifying those planning to attend this camp and are helping make alternative arrangements,” said Carlos Cortez, the council’s scout executive, said in a statement emailed to Noozhawk on Sunday morning.
“We are thankful that no youth members, adult volunteers or staff were harmed. While we are still assessing the effects on the property, we greatly appreciate our first responders for keeping our community safe.”
When the fire started, Rancho Alegre had fewer than 10 people on the property, mostly permanent year-round staff and three youth camp staff members.
The group was evacuated to the Scout office in Santa Barbara, where a parent picked up the youth staff and drove them to their homes in Nipomo, Arroyo Grande and Morro Bay, according to the council.
The Outdoor School serves more than 4,000 fifth- and sixth-graders each year, hosting day trips and overnight and multiday outdoor education programs aimed at nurturing community and environmental stewardship.
The Whittier Fire erupted around 1:40 p.m. Saturday near Camp Whittier, at 2400 Highway 154. The cause of the wildfire is under investigation but authorities say it may have been sparked by a car fire.
As of Sunday morning, the blaze had burned 7,800 acres near Lake Cachuma in the Santa Ynez Valley and prompted evacuations along the Highway 154 corridor, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Containment was estimated at 5 percent.
Flames and smoke have been visible throughout Goleta and Santa Barbara, drawing crowds of onlookers and spectacular burnt-orange sunsets.
Cortez planned to head to Rancho Alegre later Sunday to try to assess the specific amount of damage.
“To the best of our knowledge we have lost 90 percent of our structures,” he said.
As of Sunday, Los Padres National Forest officials reported 20 structures had been destroyed and 150 were threatened by the Whittier Fire.
Michael Baker, CEO of the United Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara County, which operates Camp Whittier, said the mobile home of Robert Fortune, the camp’s maintenance provider, suffered severe damage, as did a maintenance shed.
Baker said the organization took significant precautionary actions during the last year to clear brush and reduce the possibility of a fire spreading. He called Camp Whittier a “crown jewel” for the organization.
“We are very fortunate that the precautionary measures that we took prior to the fires appears to have helped keep this from being much worse than it could have been,” he said.
“Staff did its job in getting everyone out to safety. We are very pleased with the level of support we have received from the community.”
The Boys & Girls Club has a 25-year long-term lease on Camp Whittier. It is the site of many fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade science camps.
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— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.