Directors of a summer day-camp program in Warren are scrambling to figure out how to take children on field trips after their only bus was completely destroyed in an arson fire over the weekend.
On Saturday, July 8, at 5:28 p.m. Columbia River Fire and Rescue crews were dispatched to the Pacific Camps facility on Ross Road where a school bus was on fire and flames were beginning to spread to nearby grass.
While the fire was extinguished quickly and did not threaten nearby structures, the bus was a total loss, according to a release by CRFR.
According to a release from Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson, several juveniles were able to get inside the unlocked school bus Saturday afternoon when one of them set fire to a book inside the vehicle. The fire quickly spread and the whole bus caught on fire.
Dickerson confirmed at least one minor was arrested and charged with criminal mischief, reckless burning, criminal trespass and unauthorized entry motor vehicle and was referred to the Columbia County Court juvenile department. Due to the ages of minors involved, names are being withheld, Dickerson added.
Dave Galceran, the Northwest director of the Pacific Camps program, said he believes that while the fire was intentional, the blaze got out of of control and caused more damage than intended.
"I think it was some play that went a little too far," Galceran said.
CRFR Volunteer Firefighter Coordinator Jennifer Motherway, who was on scene Saturday, said two of the minors involved in the fire actually called 911 to report the fire which started near the back of the bus.
The Pacific Camps St. Helens program, which currently has 59 students enrolled in the summer program, is a day camp that specializes in taking students on field trips to attractions like the Oregon Zoo, Multnomah Falls, OMSI and many other locations.
Without a bus, the program only has three passenger vans to act as shuttles, which has put the camp directors "in a pickle," Galceran said, and is forcing directors to patch things together.
"It's really a hardship, to say the least, to have to scramble to shuttle kids and change our schedule like this," Galceran added.
April Burbank, a former employee of Pacific Camps, said children and parents were upset by the fire and the disruption it has caused. Burbank's daughter, Kaitlynn, works at the summer camp now. Burbank said she is passionate about the mission of the summer program and the power it has to change children's lives.
"They grow and learn new things. The kids are amazing, and the filed trips are what set it apart and make it fun. Pacific Camps isn't just about watching kids, it's about taking kids out to explore their world and give them opportunities to experience new things in a fun and safe environment," Burbank said.
Galceran said he and other staff are appreciative of the support the community has shown during a difficult time.
Without insurance to cover the loss of the vehicle, Galceran said staff have started a collection fund to help purchase a new vehicle. Anyone who is interested in contribute to the "bus fund" can contact Pacific Camps at 503-396-0497.