By Kevin Hunt
Jul 08, 2017

Returning to Thunder Ridge Scout Camp after the Brian Head Fire

From the start of the giant Brian Head Fire on Saturday afternoon – June 17th and our evacuation from the Thunder Ridge Scout Camp, we hoped and prayed that the fire would, by some miracle, bypass the Thunder Ridge Scout Camp.  Like all of the world around us in Southern Utah, we watched the many news reports about the fire.  There was no news about Thunder Ridge … so at that point, no news was good news.  But, still the questions lingered:  Did the fire burn our beloved Thunder Ridge Scout Camp?  Did the camp buildings burn?  And what about all of the camp staff stuff?  Was the camp ruined?  And “Will we be returning to Thunder Ridge Scout Camp after the Brian Head fire?”

Then came the news that we had hoped wouldn’t come.  The news was ominous but hopeful:  We received an e-mail on Wednesday morning (June 21st) from Candace Hutchinson – wife of our camp director, Nick.

“As you have probably heard, the fire moved down into camp last night. Crews are working very hard to keep all our gear and structures safe.”

And with this news, we again checked the internet.  We read Kevin Jenkin’s article in The Spectrum (St. George newspaper):  Scout camp escapes major damage of Brian Head fire.  (I quoted this article in a previous blog.)  Anyway, the statement: “We think the damages are minimal. … They were in there fighting it from inside that bowl,” gave some hope.  I also found hope in a comment from an unknown firefighter as he got recorded on a social media video.  Though surrounded by fire, he said, “I think we saved ‘er, Serg!”

So, there it was!  The fire did go through the camp.  But, … “Damages are minimal …”  That sounds good, but what does that really mean?  All of the Thunder Ridge Scout Camp staff, troops, Scouts, and other interested parties all wondered …  and continued to hope for the miracle for our camp.

The fire continued on its onward path after hitting Thunder Ridge.  And ultimately, the threat of more damage decreased.  Then on Friday, June 23rd, some of the Utah National Parks Council staff were allowed back into the camp.  They brought news of more hope.  “All of the camp buildings and the staff tents are safe.”  We were thrilled that they were able to get some of our “stuff” out safely.  (See my previous blog, “Fire Burns on Around Thunder Ridge but the Camp is Still There”).

Still, however, I (like many others) continued to wonder what the camp really looked like.  Then I got the opportunity to go myself back into Thunder Ridge.  I went with the camp director Nick Hutchinson, Bob Gowans (Camping Director), Ranger Dave Merrill, and staffers Michael and medic Fawn.  U.S. Forest Service ranger, Sean, escorted us up into the camp.

The dirt road up to the camp showed great devastation by the fire.  It was pretty sad!  In the past, I have enjoyed seeing the twelve “Scout Law signs” along the road to camp.  Now, after the fire, many of the signs were greatly damaged or even melted totally.  I was pleased that “Courteous” and “Reverent” were both still there.  “Friendly” did not fare so well.

Road damage at Thunder Ridge Scout Camp from Brian Head Fire

Thunder Ridge Camp Director, Nick Hutchinson, with burned “Friendly” Scout Law Sign











There was evidence of some trees that had fallen over the road – and which were cut away by forest workers.  One tree had fallen over the sign at the camp entrance.   The fire had burned – but not destroyed the Thunder Ridge Scout Camp Sign.

The former campfire bowl was a tear jerker.  We had held a couple of campfire programs in the bowl before the fire and my wife Lou and I were totally amazed at the beauty of the place.  Not so, now!  The bowl was totally devastated and I could hardly recognize the place.

Thunder Ridge Scout Camp campfire bowl before Brian Head Fire

Thunder Ridge Scout Camp campfire bowl after Brian Head Fire









“Eagle Mountain” – where many troops and our “A.C.E.” participants had hiked – was burned of all vegetation.  Pretty sad looking!

Eagle Mountain at Thunder Ridge Scout Camp before Brian Head Fire

Eagle Mountain at Thunder Ridge Scout Camp after Brian Head Fire











But, as we went up into the camp, I noted that the high C.O.P.E. course, the rifle and archery ranges (with their ramadas) were all still intact. The meadow was still green and beautiful.

And it was amazing that all of the camp structures – the lodge, the commissary building, the health lodge, the showers, the program ramadas, the trading post – and even the staff tents – were all still standing and were seemingly undamaged.  What a miracle … and even more miraculous as I noted that the fire had passed within twenty or thirty feet of most of the buildings.  Such amazing work by the firefighters!  Thanks to all of you!

Brian Head Fire came within feet of the Blackburn Lodge at the Thunder Ridge Scout Camp

We noted with mixed emotions, the trees to the east of camp.  Those in and immediately above the campsites were still green and beautiful.  But, above them on a higher level, we could see the ring of burned trees (those that had previously been killed by the “bark beetles”).

Eastern view of Brian Head Fire in Thunder Ridge Scout Camp

Bob and Michael went to work packing up the trading post inventory.  Fawn worked on the commissary as Dave and Nick took a couple of still-full trash dumpsters down the hill.   I went to the staff tents.  I first noted the giant tree that last summer had been hit by lightning – and the staff tents for the “Ladies of Thunder Ridge”.  I saw that the fire had come within about twenty feet of this tree and the lady tents.

Brian Head Fire came to western edge (top of hill) of Camp Thunder Ridge

I made a pass through all of the still-standing staff tents to collect the last of their remaining “stuff”.  (And I noted that these tents had varying degrees of cleanliness and order.  Some were nice and some were … well, rather gross!  I pity some of their mothers!)  It was interesting to see the red fire retardant that had been sprayed on Larry’s teepee and some of the tents.   The red retardant seemed to be ever-present all over in the camp.  But, in this red hue, I was also grateful.  For, I knew that without it, the camp damages could have been catastrophic.  Again, thanks to all of the hero firefighters!

Cinder holes in Hunt staff tent at Thunder Ridge Scout Camp following Brian Head Fire

I then went to my own tent.  I saw that all of our stuff was still there, okay, and waiting to be hauled off.  Then I looked up into the top of the tent.  I was horrified as I saw about a hundred cinder holes in the tent.  I hadn’t seen any other such holes in the other staff tents – but there were a lot of holes in mine.  Another miracle!  It took me a while, but I soon got my stuff packed and ready to be put into the trailer we had brought.

With my own stuff taken care of, I then took a walk through camp.  I walked around each of the campsites.  I took many photos as I went to document the condition of each site.  Again I noted the red fire retardant – this time all over the trunks of the white Aspen trees.

Red fire retardant on Thunder Ridge aspen trees following Brian Head Fire

I went to the Arapahoe campsite and noted big damage at the front and along the trail into the site.  But, at the site, I saw that if a few tall burned pine trees were removed, the site would still be beautiful.  This site – located on the far south end of camp – was really the only campsite damaged by the fire.

Fire damaged entry into Arapajo campsite at Thunder Ridge Scout Camp following Brian Head Fire

I went to the other campsites and found “hot spots” still burning in “Pawnee” and “Gros Ventre”.  I took Ranger Sean up into Gros Ventre (pronounced “Grow vante”) so that he could see the fire climbing one tree.  He went after it with a shovel and his water thermos – but soon discovered that the tree fire was a bit beyond his control.    He called for a fire engine and we passed it coming up the hill as we left camp.

Fire “hotspot” in Gros Ventre campsite at Thunder Ridge Scout Camp following Brian Head Fire

As I headed back to the vehicles, I again paused to take in the beautiful view of the large camp meadow and the buildings and structures – as I had done earlier on the day of the fire.  I noted that the fire literally did circle the camp – with damage to trees on the west side (along the mountain top), the north side (by Eagle Mountain), and to the east above the trees – but felt that the place was still beautiful.  It was evident that we will again (next summer) be able to have Scouts in our Thunder Ridge Scout Camp and that Thunder Ridge will again be available to future generations of Scouts.  Such wonderful news!  I was happy!

Thunder Ridge Scout Camp view looking southwest following Brian Head Fire

The camp will need to host many work projects, but with dedicated efforts by a lot of volunteers, it can mostly be restored to its former “paradisiacal glory”.  (And I am sure that financial help – both small and really great – would be most welcome in the camp cause!)

Yes, there is hope!  And like the mythological Phoenix of yesteryear (for whom my Arizona metro area is named), I believe that Camp Thunder Ridge will rise from the dust and ashes and will continue to be great.

And that is all one grand miracle – thanks to firefighters and the providence of Heaven acting on our behalf.  And so, the Spirit of Thunder Ridge will live on – not only in our hearts – but physically too.  I am grateful and excited for the future of our Thunder Ridge Scout Camp.  Bring on the Scouts!

Best wishes along your Scouting Trails …  

Author:  Kevin Hunt |#thescoutblogger, Scouting Historian, Author, Blogger, Speaker, Scouting Veteran, and Camp Director.

See this link for an introduction to Kevin the Scouting Trails Blogger.  Blogging articles have excerpts taken from Kevin’s many personal journals and Scouting Trails books including “MR. Scoutmaster!”, “Keys to Scouting Leadership,” “Gnubie to Eagle Scout”,  and others at his Scoutingtrails website.  Connect with Kevin and read his articles on Scouting blogsites such as The Boy ScoutThe Scouting Trail and the Voice of Scouting.  Feel free to comment on anything you read!  Find Kevin on Facebook at:  Scouting Trails Books and Blogs.

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5 thoughts on “Returning to Thunder Ridge Scout Camp after the Brian Head Fire

  1. AvatarRichard Saunders

    Thanks to the fire fighters who put in time at the camp. Looking ahead, let’s work with the SUU folks to develop a teaching station at the Camp about the role and effects of fire and regrowth on forests. There are burnt and unburnt spaces that should provide good opportunities for comparison.

  2. Kevin HuntKevin Hunt Post author

    That sounds like a great idea. Contact Robert (Bob) Gowans at the Orem Scout office. He is over all camping in Southern Utah and lives in LaVerkin.

  3. Tyler NorthTyler North

    my hat goes off to all the hard working firefighters. From what I heard, they really made it a priority to protect the camp from severe damage, and then thankfully the winds changed direction and the flames went away from camp.

  4. AvatarNicole Johnson

    Great job describing what you saw. We have been praying for our sister camp as it broke our heart to think of a fire there.


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