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Forest fire rages through Baptist camp

CLOUDCROFT, N.M. (BP)–A forest fire that raced through the Sacramento Mountains in southern New Mexico destroyed numerous buildings at the Sivells Baptist Retreat and Conference Center but firefighters saved most of the camp from destruction, according to Paul Klopfer, manager of the facility.

“God is so merciful,” declared the manager of Sivells Baptist Retreat and Conference Center on Wednesday evening, May 1, as firefighters were busy trying to save camp structures from a devastating forest fire in southern New Mexico.

Klopfer said the fire had claimed the Crusader Bathhouse and six of the eight cabins located on the lower part of the camp’s mountain.

Other camp structures lost in the fire included two cabins, the camp’s well house, lower ropes course, new climbing wall and materials for constructing a third upper cabin, which was scheduled to be built by volunteers from Hillcrest Baptist Church, Lovington, the next weekend.

In all 128 beds were claimed by the flames. But the longtime camp manager sounded optimistic that the camp’s ministries would not be hindered by the blaze.

The Baptist New Mexican spoke with the BCNM’s executive director, Claude Cone, by phone at about 10 p.m. May 1.

“New Mexico Baptists are thankful to God that the damage was not any greater than it was,” said Claude Cone, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.

He said he expected that all camps scheduled for the summer would go on as scheduled.

Miraculously, Klopfer said, none of the camp’s major buildings was lost.

“God’s doing some great things, and he’s protecting,” Klopfer said. “There’s so much that could have been lost,” he said.

The fire began on April 30. The next morning firefighters moved into the camp and made it their staging area for fighting the blaze.

News reports said that approximately 1,000 firefighters were dispatched to the fire, which, investigators believed, was caused by accident. A suspect, 47-year-old William Myers Jr. of Wills Canyon, confessed to accidentally setting the fire, before taking his own life.

Sivells Camp was founded in 1963 when the BCNM purchased 168 acres of land in southern New Mexico because the convention’s only camp at the time, Inlow Youth Camp near Albuquerque, was not big enough to accommodate all the camping needs of both the Woman’s Missionary Union and the Brotherhood.

The new camp was constructed by hundreds of volunteers on weekends under the direction of H.C. Sivells, who served as director of men’s ministries in the state from 1954-71.

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  • John Loudat