What I know: Kennedy Meadows fire

Kennedy Meadows is inextricably part of my backstory too. The Professor, my friends, and I have spent many hours riding our horses through the beautiful place on our way to the Emigrant Wilderness. We’ve eaten at the restaurant, spent time in the bar, and my favorite – hung out after dark by the corrals just to watch the stock. The resort hotel and store burned to the ground in 2007. Our tiny community was stunned.

I got the call at about 7:30 Monday morning. Kennedy Meadows had burned. Radio reports said it was all gone. I got in the car and headed up the mountain, dreading what I would see. How would I react when I saw it? What would I do? Could I keep a stiff upper lip. I didn’t know. Mostly I felt numb.

As I crossed the bridge and saw the first cabins on the right, it was as if nothing had changed. The row of cabins was there on the left too. And then I saw it. A pile of rubble remained of the lodge and a handful of outbuildings. So it was at least partially true. The central portion of Kennedy Meadows Resort – the heart, if you will – was missing.

I looked around and it was disconcerting. As long as I didn’t face the lodge, it was as if nothing had changed. The meadow looked the same. The pack station looked the same. Nothing had changed at the saloon. But turning, the true story was undeniable. The lodge with its historic hotel rooms, restaurant, and store was and is surely gone.

CAL FIRE command center got the call from the Blooms, the family that operates the leased Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station at pretty close to 1:00 am on Sunday night. Apparently folks sleeping upstairs in the hotel heard an explosion, awakened, and woke the others.

They began fighting the fire using a 500 gallon fire engine kept on hand for the express purpose of fighting fire should one come to the isolated canyon. Five hundred gallons of water didn’t quite do it. The fire was so hot that a car parked out in front began melting down.

CAL FIRE believes that a chimney flue fire got into an adjacent tree and the flames quickly spread to adjacent buildings. Matt Bloom, his dad Bart, his uncle, and others worked valiantly, falling several trees to extinguish the flames.

The first unit arrived from Pinecrest about an hour after the call for help came in. Long response time? Yes, it’s a long ways from Pinecrest and below and a heavy fire truck or water tender fully loaded can’t hustle up the mountain.

Before it was all said and done, CAL FIRE had sent 4 engines, 1 chief officer, and 1 investigator. Tuolumne County sent 2 engines, 3 water tenders, and 2 inspector/information officers. Mi-Wuk Village Fire Protection District sent an engine too. The USFS sent 2 engines (from Dry Meadows and Brightman), a hand crew (Crew 3), a Prevention unit, and a District Fire Management Officer.

This supervisor is extremely grateful to all the fire personnel – local, state, and federal – that came and extinguished what could have been a much worse fire.

Their efforts, combined with those already on scene, contained the fire to the main lodge, cabins 1-7, the laundry house, the shower house, the restroom, a generator shed, tool shed, and storage shed, and a water heater building. Matt’s cabin and 2 travel trailers were damaged.

Bart Bloom told me that he’d never seen anything like it. “Oh I’ve been on forest fires before, but I’ve never seen it like that. I’m used to wildland fires where you’re worried about more acres of forest burning.” On early Monday morning, Bart’s goal was that and more – it was also to extinguish nearby buildings beginning to burn.

The Blooms lost a dog in the fire inside the store. Incredibly, no other lives were lost. Two of the Blooms were burned – 1 slightly and the other had a second degree burn on his forearm. Over 250 saddles and 100 pack saddles were unscathed. Matt moved most of his horses and mules last week – not too many remained – and those that remained were safe. The fire didn’t come near them. Approximately 10 cabins remain intact. The saloon wasn’t touched either.

It’s not the first time Kennedy Meadows lost a hotel. The one that just burned was built in the 40s to replace a previous hotel that burned. District 3 has lost many historic mountain buildings to fire. Some are lost forever, but Kennedy Meadows has experienced this before. The resilience of human nature arises and does what it has to do to go forward. That will happen again.

Matt will open for business next year when the snow melts. In the meantime, he’s got a lot of work to do. Insurance adjusters have been out. Tuolumne County’s chief building officer has made a visit. Representatives from the Stewardship Council and PG&E (the property owner) have been up to see what they can see. And there is a constant stream of volunteers and well-wishers coming by to help and express their support.

Matt plans to rebuild and Tuolumne County stands ready to do whatever can be done to help. A fund has been established to receive donations at Oak Valley Community Bank. Please reference: “Kennedy Meadows Reconstruction Account.” If you live out of the area, you can contact Oak Valley Community Bank at (209)532-7100 for more information.

In a statement released today, the Blooms said,

“In this destruction the business has lost ALL records, including and not limited to old and new customer contact information as well as all reservations for pack trips and cabins for 2008 and 2009. The management of Kennedy Meadows Resort is asking their customers (from around the world) to photocopy their deposit receipts and mail them to the resort.

The Bloom family would also like to thank the community for all their well-wishes and the immediate community for literally pitching in and helping the family in this unfortunate event. Dodge Ridge ski area has personally sent employees and generators to the scene to help in any and all ways. Dardanelle Resort has also taken the displaced customers and employees in, they arrived immediately with food for the employees and fire crews and have continued to play a vital role in providing meals and essentials that were all lost in the fire.

For the hundreds of phone calls the Resort is receiving offering help, the family cannot express their gratefulness enough, and if anyone would like to know how they can be of any further assistance please look at the website for updated needs and areas of support. http://www.kennedymeadows.com.”

Today (Oct. 2nd) I met with staff from the Stewardship Council and PG&E on their way back to the Bay Area after visiting Kennedy Meadows. They came to offer their support to the Blooms and to see first-hand the extent of the damage. Like me, they were devastated by the news initially, but after visiting today don’t feel the damage was as bad as they had expected. They also feel that Matt will be able to operate the pack station and remaining cabins next season and that he’s got some time over this winter to plan the future. They are encouraged by the strong community support and confident in Matt’s positive attitude and grit. The Stewardship Council has made it very clear that existing uses on PG&E properties are very important and to be preserved. Let’s take comfort in that.

In the meantime, the Stewardship Council will continue to finalize the draft Volumes I and II of the Land Conservation Plan (see my previous post on the process for divesting PG&E of 140,000 acres of land in California, including Kennedy Meadows).

We discussed beginning our facilitated local stakeholder process in the first half of November(Kennedy Meadows is 1 of 4 pilot projects to serve as a model for the disposition of the rest of the lands in the state). The process is expected to yield a recommendation for the eventual ownership and/or management of Kennedy Meadows.

The Stewardship Council will provide a neutral facilitator to lend process support. I will assist with logistics (securing meeting locations, etc.). I encourage anyone who has an interest in Kennedy Meadows’ future and wants to participate to join us. The group will self-govern and come up with an ultimate recommendation to the Stewardship Council via consensus, as their own decisions are made.

So, all in all, there is reason to mourn, but also much to be thankful for and look forward to. I will keep you updated on the blog and my website (www.terimurrison.com).

Thanks for all of your kind words and offers to help. I am amazed at the outpouring of support for the Kennedy Meadows Resort and the Blooms.

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I like going places: out West, west of the West, and all the way around the back of the globe to the East. I like to go by train, plane, automobile, horseback. Whatever. And I like writing about what I see, feel, hear, smell, and touch all along the way and once I get there.

2 thoughts on “What I know: Kennedy Meadows fire

  1. Dear Teri, I just learned about the fire at Kennedy Meadows and while sifting though the various websites for more information I came across your page regarding Kennedy Meadows and the issues that the community and the Blooms faced even before the fire. I am, of course heart sick over the loss of the old resort. My sons and I just returned in late August from our annual pack trip into the wilderness and the resort provides the means as well as the opportunity to do this. It is a huge part of our lives. I’m not sure I know how to break the news to them that the old lodge where we played scrabble, ate, and played with dear old Maggie are gone – but they are resilient, just like the owner, Matt Bloom. Your comments on the fate of the resort and pack station are right on the mark and even with the background of the fire, the time for bickering between polarized camps is well over. As a card carrying Sierra Clubber and environmental advocate I want you to know that my family and I love Kennedy Meadows, its history, owners, employees and there is no better time than now to come together and help craft the future of a place that is so special in the hearts of so many. I think those on the vocal fringes of this long argument have painted each other into a corner and the majority of us outdoors people, the horsemen, the fishermen, hunters, hikers and the rest of the responsible stewards of nature are quite capable of coming together and creating safeguards for the continued operation of the resort. More importantly, we must ensure the preservation of a unique and valuable recreational asset, as well as the legacy within our collective memories of a place that is so deeply loved. That is why I wanted to drop you this note and thank you for your support of Kennedy Meadows and the families who hold it so dear.

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