On October 17, Enchanted Hills Camp staff – cooks, craftsmen and the property managers who work and live at the specialized Napa camp and training center for the blind – reunited at LightHouse for the Blind’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco to discuss the future of their 67-year-old camp. When the 311-acre property on Mount Veeder in Napa found itself at the center of multiple advancing fires last week, the future of the West Coast’s oldest camp for people who are blind and visually impaired was suddenly uncertain. Camp staff were able to evacuate before the mountain closed to the public, and took refuge with friends and family while waiting several days for news about their home.
On Sunday, the LightHouse finally received a few photographs of the beloved summer camp, though much of it was hard to recognize. More than a dozen structures, which housed hundreds of campers each summer, had been laid to waste by uncontrolled flames that had crossed the boundary lines into camp on the second weekend of fires in Northern California. The damage accounts for more than half of the camp’s capacity, and though reports are still inconclusive, likely includes a brand new natural redwood theater, with hand-carved benches crafted by blind artisans this summer.
“The silver lining,” says Enchanted Hills Camp director Tony Fletcher, “is though the student and staff housing is largely gone, Enchanted Hills’ core, its historic gathering spaces, remain largely intact. Because of our commitment to a fire abatement plan and all the help we’ve received enacting it over the past decade, many of these beloved buildings were spared.”
On Monday evening, LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin sent a letter to the extended blindness community throughout the United States, sharing details of the damage but also with reassurances of Enchanted Hills’ future:
“I want the large and extended LightHouse community to know that we are committed to building back Enchanted Hills Camp stronger and better than ever, both as a camp for the blind and a treasured Napa retreat center. The reconstruction of lower camp will give us opportunities to build in accessibility and modern comforts for generations of campers to come. But before that we need to tend to our staff, our operations and the planning, reforestation and construction that likely will occupy us for years to come.”
As of Tuesday morning, certain structures and vegetation was still ablaze in restricted parts of the hilly camp, though kept in check by firefighters, and it will be days if not weeks before camp staff can return to view the damage.
The LightHouse has started a dedicated fund to rebuild Enchanted Hills Camp. Should you wish to help, please consider making a donation — big or small. If you have any leads for our displaced staff in the Napa area, please email Taccarra Burrell at firstname.lastname@example.org.