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Camp Aldrich fire ruled accidental; cause unknown
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The cause of Saturday’s fire at the Camp Aldrich Conference Center Dining Hall hasn’t been determined, Claflin Fire Chief Doug Hubbard said Monday.
“I can safely say it was accidental,” Hubbard said. Other than that, he is waiting for an official report from the state fire marshal’s office.
The building was not in use at the time and no one was injured. The fire was reported with a call to 911 just after 5:30 a.m. Smoke and flames were visible from the building.
Camp Aldrich is located between Claflin and the Cheyenne Bottoms Refuge, and is owned by Barton Community College. The dining hall was destroyed, along with a cake, food and decorations for a wedding party that was scheduled for Saturday.
Hubbard, who is also Barton County’s director of 911 communications, talked about the fire Monday during the Barton County Commission meeting, again saying  the fire has been ruled accidental, although officials weren’t certain what actually caused it. The caretaker’s dogs awakened him to alert him to the fire.
Hubbard noted that the flames could be seen from Claflin. His department was on the scene for 12 hours and used 80,000 gallons of water. They also had to also battle some small grass fires ignited by the initial fire. Conditions there were “tinder dry,” he said.
Fire departments from Great Bend, Ellinwood, Hoisington and Holyrood assisted by delivering water and firefighters.
Barton President Dr. Carl Heilman and other officials issued statements Saturday afternoon:
“First and foremost, we are very fortunate there were no injuries, and we are extremely grateful for the efforts of the many local firefighters who responded quickly and contained the fire,” Heilman said. “The Barton Community College Board of Trustees will immediately assess the next step in order to provide a functioning camp as soon as possible.”
A program and meal for a Kansas Wetlands Education Center program that was supposed to have taken place Sunday was quickly moved to the Hoisington Knights of Columbus Hall. The fate of upcoming events, including the Barton Foundation Sporting Clay Shoot on May 1 and the Camp Hope camp for children with cancer in June, remains to be seen. Barton Foundation Director Darnell Holopirek said she planned to contact the Foundation’s board of directors on Monday to discuss the next step.
Barton Vice President Dr. Penny Quinn called the destruction of the Camp Aldrich dining hall “a terrible loss to the college, the community, and to the numerous groups and organizations which have supported and utilized camp over the years.”
“I believe the best perspective to have at this time is to be thankful that no patrons or employees sustained personal injury as a result of the devastating fire, and that the fine businesses and residents of Barton County have offered  support to the wedding party who experienced loss of materials which were stored in the hall,” Quinn said in an official statement issue Saturday. “Finally, a big thank you to the firefighters who quickly responded and kept the fire contained.”