4-H Camp Ocala Converted Into Fire Command
Charles Wolfe (352) 759-2288
OCALA — Normally, 4-H Camp Ocala would be teeming with kids, backpacks, sleeping bags and giggles. But the recent wildfires have displaced campers with firefighters, two helicopters and a military-style command post.
The U.S. Forest Service took over the camp Friday to set up a fire command site that houses more than 100 firefighters and 40 support staff and coordinates firefighting in three central Florida counties.
4-Hers from Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties willingly gave up their camp site this week and instead are at Camp Cloverleaf near Sebring. Next week, 4-Hers from Marion County won’t have a back-up camp to use and will lose out on their camping because the firefighters are expected to stay through the end of July.
“One of the things we try to teach young people through 4-H is community responsibility,” said Damon Miller, assistant dean for 4-H at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “What better lesson could we have?”
The camp staff is working overtime to host the firefighters and staff living at the camp, said manager Charles Wolfe. “Taking care of firefighters is an around-the-clock business.
“They need a lot of food to keep their energy up,” he said. “We’re packing 175 bag lunches, each with two sandwiches, a day plus preparing breakfast and dinner.
“We’re also going into Umatilla to wash towels and sheets and firefighter’s clothes.”
The firefighters — from throughout Florida and other states — are fighting blazes in Lake, Hernando and Pasco counties.
The camp, located in the Ocala National Forest in Central Florida, is ideal for a command post because all the crews and their equipment can be housed together, said logistics section chief Brett Hanchett, who is from Utah.
Camper staff member Coury Hill, 19, said he was glad to change roles from working with 4-Hers to helping firefighters. “I decided to help out as much as possible since they are fighting fires near where I live in Brooksville.”