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Nearly destroyed four years ago, Camp Rancho Alegre officials keeping close eye on Alisal Fire

Camp Rancho Alegre
Dave Alley // KEYT
Entrance to Camp Rancho Alegre and The Outdoor school along Highway 154 in Santa Barbara County. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. -- More than four years after Camp Rancho Alegre was nearly destroyed by fire, camp officials are keeping a close eye on the nearby Alisal Fire.

Los Padres Council officials said Thursday they are monitoring the Alisal Fire, which is burning in the mountains between the Gaviota Coast and the Santa Ynez Valley.

"We're very concerned about a fire coming through here," said Rancho Alegre property manager Glen Goddard. I read all the reports that come across. What we're concerned is if I see the wind beginning to shift and come in our direction."

The Alisal Fire has burned 16,801 acres and is currently 5% contained. There are more than 1,300 personnel working the fire and Highway 101 remains closed along the coastline between Gaviota and Goleta.

Goddard said he was especially worried about the fire on Wednesday after seeing smoke drift above the property. However on Thursday morning, the camp sat underneath clear blues skies.

"I am very optimistic," said Goddard. "I'm happy that the winds have died down today, and I don't see smoke or smell smoke today at camp, so I think we're going to be pretty safe."

The longtime Boy Scout camp is also home to The Outdoor School, a popular environmental education program  that serves thousands of students annually from around the surrounding area.

The facility is located near Cachuma Lake and operated by the Los Padres Council, Boy Scouts of America, which serves youth in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.

In July 2017, the Whittier Fire wiped out more than 90 percent of the buildings on the 217 acre property.

With the current fire just a few miles away, it's a painful reminder of what happened at camp only four years earlier.

"It does bring some memories back of what we had and what we went through," said Carlos Cortez, Los Padres Council Scout Executive/CEO. "And also how far we've come, and how close we are to finishing our project here, but still how far we have to go, and how difficult it's been to recover."

Since the Whittier Fire, a number of mitigation efforts have been put into place.

"We always try and have a plan in place, do our due diligence to have a fire plan and a fire evacuation plan in case something does happen," said Cortez.

The camp has an aggressive approach to ensuring defensive space around all of the buildings, most of which have been built during the reconstruction project.

"We are constantly brush wacking, taking out the brush, getting things cleared around the buildings, trying to keep the brush as far back as we can," said Goddard. "The good news is our buildings have better fire retardant ability than they use to have, so they're not all wood as they were in the past, so that will protect our buildings."

Rancho Alegre also has completely upgraded hydrant system over the past few years.

"We have laid a larger water line that accommodates more water," said Goddard. "We have strategically placed them throughout the property and along this road. That gives us more water volume through the system. It allows us if we have to fight a fire that we'll be able to get water out and to where ever the fire is a lot more quickly."

In addition, a portion of the road to the camp was recently widened and paved. The improved road will provide access to large firefighting vehicles in case of an emergency.

"The road is really the backbone of this whole thing," said Cortez. "Since we have a quarter of it set up, that part of it goes right into the buildings, so the fire trucks or anything that needs to come here can get in here fairly easy if needed to be, and we can get people out fast if we needed to get out."

While a significant portion of the road is now freshly paved, much more of the road needs to be paved as well. Cortez said the Los Padres Council needs about $600,000 to complete the roadway improvement.

He also added more donations are needed to fully complete the entire rebuild project that still has a target of mid-to-late 2022 to reopen.

"We're at a complete standstill right now," said Cortez. "We have depleted all of our contributions. We've depleted all the cash that we've had in hand to rebuild, so you will see behind me here that there is no action going on, which is the first time this has happened in the last four years."

For more information about Rancho Alegre, click here.

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.

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