An iconic 7,000-square-foot dining hall that hosted tens of thousands Charlotte Boy Scouts over the past 40 years has reportedly burned to the ground in the foothills north of Shelby.
Called the Belk Dining Hall, the building was considered the centerpiece of the 1,250-acre Camp Grimes, opened in 1976.
The cause remains under investigation, but Boy Scout officials do not believe the blaze is related to the wildfires that have devastated thousands of acres in the North Carolina mountains in recent weeks.
Mark Turner, head of the Mecklenburg County Council of the Boy Scouts, says the fire was discovered about 6:30 p.m. Sunday and the building was completely destroyed, despite the best efforts of 50 firefighters called to the scene.
“All that is standing now is the chimney,” said Turner, who traveled to the site after getting the news Sunday. “When I saw the flames, which were literally 30 feet in the air out the roof, my heart just sank. That building has served generations of scouts and there are a lot of emotional ties to it. It held a lot of memories and a lot of traditions.”
The wood-frame building dates to 1976, and is the largest structure at the reservation, which hosts about 40,000 camper nights annually. The hall was big enough to seat 400 boys at once.
A camp ranger and his wife who live on the property smelled smoke, which led them to discover the fire Sunday night, Turner said.
“We could have lost the entire camp, were it not for someone from the forest service who happened to be driving by and was first on the scene,” Turner said, noting that forest service official was returning from fighting the wildfires in the mountains.
“He went back around to the back of the dining hall and, in the words of one of the investigators, he ‘pinched the head of the fire’ and kept it from spreading across the camp.”
The fire would have spread quickly and easily, due to brittle conditions caused by months of drought conditions. State officials say wildfires in the North Carolina mountains have consumed 40,000 so far this autumn.
Belk Dining Hall was insured, but Turner says the cost of replacing the building will likely exceed the money offered by the insurance policy. As a result, the council is already discussing a fund raising campaign to supplement the cost of reconstruction.
Details of that campaign will be announced in coming weeks, he said.