James Rada, Jr.
Camp Airy’s historic dining room catches fire on June 29.
Photo by Trevor James
The day after the Camp Airy (a Jewish summer overnight camp for boys) dining hall in Thurmont burned at the end of June, the staff and campers at Camp Airy showed their resilience by still hosting a carnival for the campers and the girls from Airy’s sister camp, Camp Louise.
“The kids had a blast, and it allowed them to feel everything was normal,” said Marty Rochlin, co-executive director for Camp Airy and Camp Louise.
The fire caused $4 million in damage to the hall, kitchen, storage, and offices in the building. No one was injured, but the remnants of the building have been demolished and a new building will be constructed. More than 100 firefighters fought the blaze for hours. The Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services said in a news release that the cause is under investigation, but it was not believed to be “intentional or suspicious factors,” according to the release.
“It’s not the sort of summer experience either we or the kids expected, but they are doing fine,” Rochlin said. “It was an unprecedented and scary day. We had to make sure the kids were taken care of and let the worried parents know they were fine.”
At any given time during the season, the camp has around 340 to 400 boys, plus a couple hundred staff members.
Following the fire, a tent dining hall, serviced by a mobile kitchen, has been established. Rochlin said that he expects a fine-tuned version of this will be used next camping season as well, with the new hall ready for use in 2024.
In the days following, area restaurants and grocery stores provided meals and food to the camp, while donations poured in from alumni and the community. Some of the businesses lending a hand were Food Lion, Weis, Rocky’s Pizza, Mountain Gate Restaurant, and Gateway Farm Market.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington allocated $25,000 in emergency funds to the camp, according to a news release.
“Jewish summer camp is an incomparable experience,” Gil Preuss, the Federation’s CEO said in the release. “Many children from our Greater Washington community attend Camp Airy, and we are grateful to Camp Airy’s professional team for their dedication to ensuring that, in spite of this difficult situation, their campers will continue to have a wonderful summer.”
Rochlin said the response has been wonderful. “We are lucky to have such great alumni and a supportive community.”