Cabin owners still waiting to rebuild one year after Chariot Fire

Owners blame government bureaucracy for hold up

MOUNT LAGUNA - It has been one year since the Chariot Fire ripped through 7,000 acres and more than 100 cabins at the Al Bahr Shrine Camp in Mount Laguna.

A Cal Fire report into the investigation and subsequent Cal Fire press release blamed a Bureau of Land Management Jeep for starting the fire on July 8, 2013.

Cabin owners and their attorney told Team 10 rebuilding is being blocked by bureaucracy. 

Rich Church and his wife visited their cabin at the Al Bahr Shrine Camp every chance they got.

"You'd get to experience all the seasons. You see the summer, the fall … you get to see all the colors change on the trees," said Church.

Church stood at the site surrounded by trees that are black and charred. The Al Bahr Shrine Camp, his favorite place on earth, burned to the ground exactly one year ago.

"It was equivalent to losing a family member," he said. "The camp has been here for so long and is such a big part of us."

A few cabins remain and that is about it.

"Nothing has been rebuilt because we can't rebuild," said John Fiske, senior trial attorney at Gomez Trial Attorneys. Fiske represents more than 100 people with cabins at the shrine camp.

Team 10 broke the news in April that Cal Fire had completed their investigation into the Chariot Fire but would not release its report.

The agency then released their findings and a press release blaming a Bureau of Land Management Jeep for starting the fire.

"Hopefully we can start moving forward," said Church. "That seemed to be one of the hang-ups … knowing the cause."

But the Shriners still cannot rebuild the camp and the people that have cabins cannot stay in them.

"The Bureau of Land Management needs to compensate all of the homeowners and Al Bahr Shrine for burning down their camp," Fiske said. "If there is no money to rebuild, we can't rebuild. It's a simple as that."

Fiske wants the cabins rebuilt and everything that was inside of them refunded. 

"No one's looking for windfall," he said. "No one is looking to make money. Their buildings, their structures, their photo books, their quilts, their beds … everything was destroyed."

One thing still stands: the old stone fireplace that used to sit in the camp lodge.

The lodge was called the heart of the camp. It is a place they hope is a living, breathing community one day soon.

"It gives me hope to give us something to build on," said Church.

A Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman said they cannot comment on pending litigation. They said the Cal Fire report lists four possibilities of the cause and would not comment on the Cal Fire press release blaming the BLM Jeep for the cause.

The spokeswoman said they did complete an internal report dealing with a personal issue but she said she cannot comment on personal issues because of privacy laws.

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