After Devastating Fire, Lone Oak Campsites Begins Reconstruction
East Canaan’s Brown family has invincible optimism
By Colleen Gundlach
“In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer.” So said French philosopher Albert Camus, but it could also have been said about the Brown family of East Canaan. Less than a month after a fire completely destroyed their business office, these owners of Lone Oak Campsites are already rising from the ashes, working hard to be able to open their gates on April 14 as originally scheduled.
Around 9:45 a.m. on Sunday, February 5, neighbor Amanda Freund noticed black smoke billowing over the campground. She notified Barry and Jacolyn Brown, who arrived to find the office building fully enflamed. After calling 911, they immediately shut off the power and propane to the buildings.
Fire crews from North Canaan, Norfolk and Lakeville responded in full force, pumping water from a pond on the campground property. Fire had engulfed the wing that housed the office, the staff room and two bathrooms, but the quick work of the firefighters saved the larger attached building containing the store, lounge and recreation hall. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but it is thought to be electrical in nature.
“We were reeling in disbelief,” said Jacolyn Brown after the fire. “I spend 10 hours a day here. It was like my home had burned.” However, with hundreds of campers due to arrive in just two months, there was no time to grieve. A nor’easter was predicted for two days after the fire, so the family rallied to put a new two-story wall on the remaining building to keep out the snow and began sifting through the rubble to salvage what they could of their business records and files.
The office computers were melted masses of metal, but the hard drives were isolated and sent to an expert to try and retrieve what could be saved. Fortunately, the most recent financial records of the business had been routinely uploaded to their accountant in January and the campground’s reservation system for their short-term campers resides on the Cloud. Charred personnel and payroll records stored in file cabinets will now be painstakingly sorted.
“It is a challenge,” says Brown. “If we look at it as a forest, it’s overwhelming. But if we look at it one tree at a time, we can work at that one thing and then move on to the next. It’s like a puzzle of a million pieces. I pick up one puzzle piece and try to fit it in where it belongs.”
The campground’s store and lounge have been emptied of all contents and put into storage while cleaning crews remove the smoke and water damage. The staff members who work during the winter months are functioning out of the Brown’s home, continuing to take reservations, answer questions and prepare the activities and events for the coming spring and summer seasons.
When cleanup is complete, the plan is to relocate the office facilities into the campground’s store for the 2017 season. “Our office manager is coming back from California early this year to help us out,” says Brown, “She will whip the office back into shape!” The store will be open as well, though on a considerably smaller scale.
Once the campground is open and running, the family and staff will begin the redesign of the office wing. Brown says their goal right now, though, is to make the 2017 opening flow smoothly. “Except for having the office in a different building, we don’t want to have any inconvenience or disruption,” she says. “We want everything to appear seamless to our campers.” That’s evidence of the invincible summer attitude of a determined and united family.
Lone Oak Campsites will open for their 53rd season on April 14. For more information and to see clean-up and reconstruction photos, visit loneoakcampsites.com.
Photo courtesy of the Brown family.