Monitoring: the key to surviving wildfires for church retreats

By Thomas J. Kluxdal

Perched high in Northern California’s Sierra Mountains, Camp Peaceful Pines has served more than 60 summers as a rustic retreat for those affiliated with the Pacific Southwest District of the Church of the Brethren. Generations of campers have been drawn to the site’s awe-inspiring views in Alpine County, California—and by the chance to experience their faith in communion with nature.

A cabin at Camp Peaceful Pines escapes the damage of the fire thanks to the efforts of everyone involved.

But in the summer of 2018, it all nearly went up in smoke.

Flames from the raging Donnell fire devoured over 30,000 acres northwest of Yosemite National Park, approaching perilously close to the camp’s outer cabins—and then stopping.

The camp’s Facebook post read: “A strike team was sent to save Camp Peaceful Pines! Please continue to keep Camp Peaceful Pines in your prayers, and all those working around the clock to protect our forest!”

A vehicle with the Church Mutual Wildfire Solutions logo is parked on the camp grounds.

Garry Pearson, the camp director and board chair of Camp Peaceful Pines, said he is beyond grateful that the camp survived. He credits Church Mutual Insurance Company and its new CM Wildfire Solutions™ program.

Monitoring, prevention and defense

This unique program helps protect houses of worship and their properties from wildfires through monitoring, prevention and defensive strategies. Peaceful Pines was among dozens of policyholders who benefited from the CM Wildfire Solutions™ program this year.

A month before the Donnell fire broke out, Church Mutual determined that Camp Peaceful Pines was in a high-hazard area. The company scheduled a Wildfire Hazard Assessment to review the buildings and grounds for hazards and provide recommendations on how to improve the camp facilities for the upcoming wildfire season. Unfortunately, the Donnell fire grew so quickly that Church Mutual was unable to provide this important step in its CM Wildfire Solutions™ process.  

Notice to evacuate

People on the fire mitigation team clean up the wreckage caused by the fire that came close to the camp.

Church Mutual actively monitored the situation as the path of the Donnell fire became clear. The team at Church Mutual alerted all policyholders within the fire’s range, including Garry at Peaceful Pines—giving him and his team advance notice so they could prepare and evacuate. Garry also received real-time email alerts to help him gauge how much time he had to prepare.

When the danger of wildfire was imminent, Church Mutual deployed its fire mitigation partner to the camp. The team helped protect the property by removing combustible debris and putting out spot fires in and around the cabins and grounds. The team also applied fire-retardant foam to the grounds surrounding the camp. The fire team worked tirelessly for five days to keep the camp’s buildings out of harm’s way. Their efforts worked.

The Wildfire Solutions approach successfully protected the camp, allowing future generations to enjoy this serene mountain sanctuary. Not long after the surrounding fires were extinguished, Camp Peaceful Pines was already planning its fall camp closing days.

It just proves that an ounce of prevention—and perhaps a dose of divine intervention—can work wonders.

Thomas J. Kluxdal is the director of innovation for Church Mutual Insurance Company

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