Staff members of Camp Bethel, along with longtime friends and associates, are picking through the rubble of several structures with a sense of loss and faith after a fire swept through the camp over the weekend and destroyed many of its central buildings.
At 6 a.m. on Sunday, a fire of undetermined origin broke out at one of the buildings. The fire quickly swept through the camp’s main building that was used as a gymnasium and dinning hall. When firefighters arrived, 10 minutes after being called, the structure was fully involved in flames. Because the structure was made of large timbers, the fire burned very hot and took firefighters a great deal of time to put out. The fire spread to a kitchen that was connected to the dinning hall, a set of offices, a lodge and a camp store and cafe. All are total losses.
Kyle Plett, the executive director of the camp located near Copalis Crossing, said that on the day the fire happened, he and others were in a state of shock. On Sunday during the fire, people gathered at the camp pacing through the central grounds watching the pillars of flames and smoke in tears, Plett said.
“I am devastated at what was and the history that is gone,” Plett said. “But my faith and my hope isn’t in the building. My faith is that God has a bigger plan for this.”
The camp grounds were purchased from the Weyerhaeuser Company in 1957 by Aberdeen First Baptist Church. Weyerhaeuser used it as a place for executives to stay as they surveyed local timber stock in Grays Harbor County and other places in the state. The camp quickly became know as a “retreat” for members of local churches seeking to renew and refresh their faith. The site was also used as a regular overnight summer camp for children and continued to be used by companies and government entities for meetings.
Plett said now the issue is the revenue the camp will lose from the loss of business until it can rebuild.
Don Glud, a longtime associate of the camp, said one would be hard-pressed to find someone in the county who has not been affected by the camp in some way. Glud has been involved with the camp since the 1960s and was one of many volunteers who helped construct the main building that is now a sprawling pile of rubble and ashes. People have already approached the members of the camp with offers to help rebuild.
Despite the loss, the camp is insured, and camp employees and friends say that is a source of hope.
“It’s a good time for renewal,” Glud said. “This is devastating, but it is also a chance for renewal.”