Wildfires across North Georgia the past few weeks have prompted wildland firefighters from across the nation to converge in an unlikely spot: a Jewish summer camp.
Camp Ramah Darom in Rabun County has stepped up to give more than 200 firefighters food and lodging while they battle the Rough Ridge and Rock Mountain wildfires raging several miles to the north and west of camp.
Ramah Darom CEO Fred Levick said the camp opened bunks to the firefighting crews because it was the right thing to do.
“We just thought, ‘Hey, there’s a fire here and people coming out who need a place to stay,’ ” Levick told the AJT. “Where are people going to find a place to stay in Rabun County? We’ve got a place that has 700 beds and a kitchen and a full-time chef. It’s something we can do to help instead of just sitting there with our hands behind our backs.”
The Rock Mountain fire began Nov. 9 along Tallulah River Road several miles north of camp and has spread to more than 12,000 acres, mostly through the burning of fallen leaves. The fire is believed to be intentional, and the Rabun County Sheriff’s Office is searching for the culprit.
As of Monday, Nov. 21, more than 434 personnel, 23 fire engines and five helicopters were fighting the fire. Two bulldozers and a tractor plow were being used to clear fire breaks.
Although the fire doesn’t pose an imminent threat to Ramah, Levick said the situation could change at any time.
On Nov. 18 the Rabun County Emergency Management Agency issued a pre-evacuation notice for areas directly to the north of camp, including the road Ramah sits on, Patterson Gap.
To fight the fires, the U.S. Forest Service set up a center for operations at Clayton City Hall on Nov. 14. Hundreds of wildland firefighters traveled to the area from as far away as Oregon. Many had planned to camp in tents or sleep in cars.
So Levick asked Ramah Darom General Manager Anthony Franklin to reach out to Mike Mazarky, the director of the Rabun County Office of Emergency Management, and offer food and lodging to firefighters in need of a place to stay.
“They had no expectations of having a bed to sleep in or showers,” Levick said. “Some of them came down from fighting a fire in North Carolina, and they’ve been sleeping in tents. It feels good for us that we’re able to do something constructive to really take care of these heroic people, and it helps keep our minds off the fire.”
Amanda Grubb, the Base Camp Manager responsible for logistics at the Ramah site says the Rock Mountain wildfire is her fifth of the year and that as fire season typically runs from May thru September, a fire this late in the year is unusual. Grubb, who is from Denver, CO told the AJT that they usually set up camp in a large field or at a fairground but this is the first time they have set up at a summer camp.
“Everybody has been so friendly and so caring,” Grubb said. “People are usually nice but it is different here. The camp and the whole community has been so welcoming, loving and supportive.”
According to Grubb, the Clayton locals have gone out of their way show the firefighters their work is appreciated, including paying for all their meals in town.
Volunteers from the Clayton community and a few from the Atlanta area made their way to Ramah the weekend of Nov. 18 to assist with cooking and serving food to the firefighters. A Jewish women’s retreat that ended Nov. 15 at Ramah Darom pitched in to help feed the firefighters.
More volunteers from the Atlanta area are expected at Ramah during the week of Thanksgiving to assist in feeding the firefighters. Ramah does not need additional volunteers at this time but donations are being accepted through Director of Development Sharon Rosenfeld (email@example.com).
In an email to Ramah Darom families, staff and alumni Nov. 16, Levick asked for prayers for the safety of those in the Clayton area and for rain. As of Nov. 18, it has not rained in Rabun County in 42 days, and it has been 98 days since the area received more than half an inch of rain.
So far, the wildfires have not destroyed any homes.
“Right now we just know there’s a fire out there, and it’s a concern,” Levick said. “We’ve done everything we can to try and protect ourselves in case the fire starts to encroach on our property. Hopefully it won’t.”
Track the fires burning in Georgia with this interactive map from WXIA: