Fire consumes Camp Airy dining hall, but not the memories of it

Damage from the fire at Camp Airy
Damage from the fire at Camp Airy (Frederick County (MD) Fire & Rescue Facebook page)

A massive two-alarm fire has consumed the dining hall at Camp Airy for Boys in Thurmont, a part of Camps Airy and Louise, according the Frederick County Division of Fire/Rescue Services.

Sparking just before 7:30 a.m. on June 29, as many as 100 firefighters from both Maryland and Pennsylvania were called to help fight the blaze. As there were no fire hydrants in the area, firefighters relied on a large pond around a mile away to battle the inferno, reported WBAL. Firefighters were able to contain the combustion to the dining hall, which had been evacuated, within three hours.

While the fire resulted in no injuries and Camp Airy is reported to be operating normally, the dining hall has been deemed a “total loss,” with damages estimated at around $2 million, said the Division of Fire/Rescue Services.

“Today has been one of the more difficult and unexpected days at Camp Airy that most of us have ever encountered,” read a statement released on the  Camps Airy & Louise Facebook page. “As a leadership team, we applaud the efforts of our entire staff in rising to the occasion and providing our campers with as normal a day on the mountain as anyone could expect.”

Camps Airy & Louise expects this sense of normality to continue through the session, the statement continued, while also thanking camp families and the local community for their support, and the firefighters who fought the blaze.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has pledged to allocate $25,000 in emergency funds to help Camp Airy move forward from the fire, read an email by Gil Preuss, CEO of the Federation, to its supporters. He also encouraged people to donate to Camp Airy’s Tomorrow Fund to support the rebuilding efforts.

Preuss added that he was both relieved to know that everyone was safe from the fire, while also saddened by the loss of a “special space” for the camp community.

“Situations like these serve as reminders of the importance of our strong connections with one another, and it has been heartening to witness the outpouring of support for Camp Airy,” Preuss said.

The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore expressed its gratitude for the lack of injuries from the fire, in a statement posted to its own Facebook page.

“For years, countless Baltimoreans have considered Camps Airy and Louise their home during the summer months,” the statement read. “We will keep you posted as we learn more and how the Baltimore community can be helpful.”

Frank Blatt, a clinical pharmacist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and a former camper and counselor of Camp Airy, said he watched reports of the fire as they came in on the television and internet. He noted that the building that the fire consumed, referred to as “the White House,” included the dining hall as well as a kitchen, administrative offices and meeting rooms.

“I felt that part of my childhood experience went up in flames,” Blatt said .

Blatt first came to Camp Airy at the age of 7, he said. Upon turning 19, he worked as a counselor at Camp Airy for two summers, calling it “one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

“In general about the White House, what I can remember … the place had a certain distinct smell,” said Blatt, a resident of Owings Mills and member of Beth El Congregation of Baltimore. “It wasn’t good or bad, it’s just that’s what it smelled like.”

Blatt added that the dining hall served a variety of good food, from its French fries and grilled cheese to its pizza, and recalled being “introduced” to the concept of dessert there, noting that his family “didn’t believe in dessert.”

Blatt also remembered a fruit punch called “bug juice” the camp would often serve.

“There’s nothing like drinking an ice cold drink from a dented metal container, especially on a hot July day,” Blatt said.

Blatt reiterated the effect the loss Camp Airy experienced had on him personally.

“In my religion, when you lose something, you go into a shiva period,” Blatt said. “That’s exactly how I felt. I felt that something was taken away from me.”

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