HAMLET — In a striking display of nature’s potential for destructive folly, flames sparked by lightning devoured the lodge at a children’s therapeutic day camp in the woods off N.C. 177 North late Sunday.
Hamlet Fire Chief Calvin White explained Tuesday that lightning hit the top of a towering pine standing about a dozen feet from the lodge, coursing down through the tree and into its roots, then into buried electrical wiring and over the ground toward the lodge.
The fire then hit the electrical panel box at the lodge, causing an explosion, Assistant County Ranger Matt Parker reported.
“(The lodge) was fully involved when we arrived on scene, (with) heavy smoke and flames showing,” White said. On the way to the fire after a 5:32 p.m. call-out, White said, firefighters could see gray smoke ascending above the trees as they left town.
White said the fire set off a burglar alarm, which alerted the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. A deputy who answered the alarm called 911, and fire crews from Hamlet, Rockingham, Hoffman and the N.C. Forest Service responded.
Hamlet firefighters were onsite until about 9:30 p.m., White said.
“It was a long day — 100 degrees, of course, and a very difficult fire,” White said, adding that he worried that the combination of heat and storms did not bode well for the rest of the summer.
The fire also charred about two acres of forestland used for the privately owned Sandhills Alternative Academy, formerly known as the Big Pine Retreat, a collection of log cabin-like buildings in a clearing alongside a lake used for canoeing and paddle-boating.
On Tuesday, day campers played ball as usual, the charred remains of the 108-year-old lodge hulking silently behind them.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]