Flooding

Days after three people were killed by flash flooding near a Christian youth camp west of Las Vegas, camp officials announced plans to bring children back for its final summer session.

In a since-deleted video posted to YouTube and Facebook over the weekend, Camp Blue Haven Director Michael McCoy announced plans to bring children back to the camp for the final summer session. He did not mention the deaths on the camp property or the heightened threat of flash flooding in the area.

“Camp has been going really good, and still is,” he said. “As you can see behind me, our forest is greening up, partially because some of you campers planted some great seeds on these hillsides and God has provided the rain.”

Heavy rains over the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire burn scar on July 21 caused flash flooding along Tecolote Creek, which runs through the camp. First responders located a vehicle in the creek channel along County Road A163. A search team found two dead women in separate locations along the creek, and authorities announced that a man was missing.

A news release from the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office stated the women had died while in the vehicle, but on Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office released new details. The body of the missing man was located in the creek channel and it was determined that the three hadn’t died while in the vehicle, but while inside a cabin along the Tecolote Creek in the Tecolote Canyon subdivision.

The bodies of 62-year-old Linda June Cummings and 84-year-old Betty Greenhaw were located July 21. The body of 62-year-old Jimmy Chris Cummings was recovered Tuesday. All three were from Hale Center, Texas.

Each day this week, the National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning for the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon burn scar. The alerts warned of the possibility of “life-threatening flash flooding” in the area.

Prior to the initial Facebook post being removed, without explanation, the post generated a mix of comments with some wishing campers well and others criticizing camp officials for going ahead with the session in the midst of more threats of flash flooding.

Several people who live in the area also called the Optic to voice concerns about the camp’s decision to continue operations. Others took to social media with concerns for the safety of children at the camp. Of those contacted by the Optic for comment, none would speak on the record, citing fear of retaliation by Camp Blue Haven officials.

One Mineral Hill resident who spoke to the Optic on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation said he’d spoken to camp personnel and voiced his concerns about the safety of campers, but he said his words were met with resistance and apathy.

“They said, ‘Well, we’ve got some higher ground here and we’ll keep the kids away from the river. I said, ‘It’s not the kids being away from the river; the river comes to the kids,’” the Mineral Hill resident said. “They’re just oblivious to the danger.”

Camp officials declined to be interviewed for this story and instead directed the Optic to a new video posted Monday to YouTube and Facebook.

In the three-minute video, Dan Burdett, the president of the camp’s board of directors, acknowledged the deaths caused by the flash flooding, calling the deceased “part of our extended family of Blue Haven cabin owners.”

“I know that the matriarch of the family who lost her life in this tragic event had great assurance that her home was not on this earth, and she very much believed in the mission of Camp Blue Haven,” Burdett said.

Burdett defended the decision to continue with the final session by saying camp officials have worked with San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez to develop a safety plan.

“In the unlikely event that evacuations should be required, there are various accessible exit paths out of camp that have not been affected by the flash flooding, including bridges and roads that remained passable, even during rising water,” Burdett said.

Sheriff Lopez did not respond to a request for comment.

In the video, Burdett said that camp staff have told the parents of campers about the recent flooding deaths and that camp officials have taken steps to restrict access to Tecolote Creek.

“We’ve communicated with great transparency to the parents of fifth- and sixth-session campers regarding the tragic events that occurred in Tecolote Canyon, emphasizing that these events did not impact campers directly,” he said. “Regarding safety measures at Camp Blue Haven, members of the board and permanent adult staff have modified daily operations and established physical barriers to ensure that campers do not access the areas along the Tecolote Creek.”

According to the Camp Blue Haven website, the camp is a 1,100-acre property with rugged mountain terrain “covered with an abundance of pine, spruce and aspen.” The camp adjoins 160,000 acres of  Santa Fe National Forest, and “two beautiful streams, the Blue and the Tecolote, flow through camp property.”

The camp is headquartered in Southlake, Texas, according to GuideStar, a database of information about nonprofit organizations.

Camp Blue Haven’s fifth session ended July 23 and the sixth camp session began July 24 and is scheduled to conclude Aug. 5.

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