GILBOA — Crews from 17 fire departments across three counties spent hours battling a blaze amid 90-degree temperatures Wednesday, Aug. 12, at The Zone Girls Camp.
No one appeared to be inside the building when the Grand Gorge Fire Department arrived on scene around 1:30 p.m., according to Chief D.J. Speenburgh. Five emergency medical service crews also responded to the scene, but no injuries were reported as of 5:45 p.m.
The fire is believed to have started in the kitchen, likely on a stove or a grill, Speenburgh said. Crews battled the blaze from inside the building at first, but were pulled out when the flames were “sucked up” through a vent and spread to the attic, quickly engulfing the entire building.
“We could knock it down at times, but it traveled so fast, it was impossible to keep up with,” said Grand Gorge firefighter Collin Oliver.
The configuration of the building, the former home of the Golden Acres Farm and Ranch Resort, made accessing the fire difficult at times, Oliver said, estimating parts of the building to be 150 years old.
A continuous rotation of 15 tankers supplied water from a pond about 300 yards behind the building, according to Schoharie County Sheriff Ron Stevens. The camp is home to several farm animals, including alpacas and mini horses, some of which had to be evacuated to make room for the trucks.
The blaze was mostly contained by 6 p.m., but Collins estimated that crews still had several hours to go.
“It’s going to be a long one,” he said.
Middleburgh firefighters employed their ladder truck to fight the flames from above and pull down parts of the exterior wall.
The fire remains under investigation by the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
The girls’ camp is operated by Oorah, a New Jersey-based Orthodox Jewish group that also operates a boys’ camp less than 10 miles down the road.
The camp, collectively known as the Oorah Catskill Retreat, was cited numerous times by the Schoharie County Health Department for violating state coronavirus restrictions that prohibit the operation of overnight camps.
Schoharie County Public Health Director Dr. Amy Gildemeister said the camp was notified Monday of more than $60,000 in fines associated with the violations. The final amount will be determined at a hearing.
Bright pink cease-and-desist orders signed by Gildemeister and dated Aug. 6 were posted throughout the rest of the camp property, which was untouched by the fire.
A banner covering the camp’s welcome sign declared that “the Zones Children’s Camp (is) closed for this season” and that “this facility is strictly being used for families and adult guests.”
The New York State Department of Health has investigated and identified several camps operating illegally this summer throughout the Catskills, including in Delaware and Sullivan counties.
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.