Camp Wyman is a week-long sleepaway camp that consists of bonding activities that connect sixth graders with peers, teachers and nature. Five years ago, on the last night for team Polaris, the camp went from fun to frightening.
On Sept. 29, 2017- the last day for team Polaris- around 2 a.m. a fire broke out in cabins five and six, which were connected within a single building.
Current junior Taryn Hibbing was one of those sixth graders who experienced the fire.
“I was in cabin five, which was one of the two cabins in the fire,” Hibbing said. “I woke up because the fire alarms were going off. My bed was right by the window, so I looked out the window. I hadn’t fully woken up by then. I thought it was day because it was so bright outside.”
“Everything was on fire in the cabin. I didn’t realize at first, but very quickly our counselors got us all out,” current junior Sydney McEvoy said.
“I opened the curtain, and it was just like the whole porch was on fire. It took me a minute to register that, then everyone was like, ‘get out of the cabin, get out of the cabin,’ so I ran out. I didn’t put shoes on, didn’t have any shoes for the rest of the night,” Hibbing said.
“I just remember getting woken up, and they were like ‘get outside,’ and everyone was disoriented and they told us grab our shoes. Some people, who were quicker thinkers were grabbing some of their stuff, but I didn’t, I only got my shoes,” current junior Sloane Carfield said.
“I climbed down from the top bunk,” current junior Lily Winklemann said. “We ran out and saw the whole thing in flames.”
Natalie Burford was a counselor in one of the cabins the year it caught on fire. She was a senior that year.
Burford was awoken by a noise that night and happened to glance out the window.
“The fire was right outside my window and was very loud. By that time the whole front porch and front of the cabin was on fire. My bed was right by the window which looked out to the front porch. So once the flames woke me up I looked outside to see the huge flames,” Burford said.
“Sadly the fire extinguisher was outside on the front porch, so obviously that was not an option. The flames were also huge by that time. So I started telling the kids to wake up,” Burford said.
Burford got all the children out of the cabin.
“At the time I was not really thinking about it. I was more just doing what was to be done,” Burford said.
The girls went up the hill to cabins three and four for about five minutes, before all heading down to the cafeteria together.
“As I was walking down to the pavilion, I looked around and just the whole roof was on fire and the trees around the cabin were on fire,” Hibbing said. “I cut the bottom of my foot on the gravel because I didn’t have any shoes on.”
“We went outside and I remember being shocked. Inside, it wasn’t really clear what was happening but then when were outside it was like, ‘ Oh, the whole cabin’s on fire,’” Carfield said.
“So then we went to a different cabin that was one of the other girls’ cabins. While we were there, we made a plan to meet at a rally point with one of the teachers because at the point, it was just our counselors and, we hadn’t been in contacted with adult adults. Then we met in this outside pavilion, and it was really cold because we were all just in pajamas,” Carfield said.
“We went inside and had cookies and water, and waited for our parents to come pick us up,” McEvoy said.
The fire destroyed all of the girls’ possessions.
“[I] lost all my stuff,” Hibbing said.
The fire also had a lasting effect.“I don’t like big campfires. I don’t like leaving candles unattended, especially in my room. I always check my fire alarm before I go to bed. That’s just one of the things I do,” Hibbing said.
“I would say it’s still something I am working through even today,” Burford said. “After the fact I realized it was actually pretty scary and felt pretty isolating. For a while hearing sirens was really hard for me, same with fire alarms. I am really conscious of where my things are and try to keep my most important things together and easily accessible in case I have to leave quickly.”
McEvoy and Carfield gained a friendship from that night.
“We weren’t as close until afterwards. We definitely got to know each other better when we were waiting outside and evacuating and stuff,” McEvoy said.
“It brought people closer together,” Carfield said. “I think everybody’s guards and walls came down afterwards so then were enable to become closer as a unit. Obviously it was really scary, and I wouldn’t want it to happen again, but I definitely did make friends out of it.”
“After the fire, we had one or two sessions back at Steger where our counselors would come back, and we did kinda group therapy sessions,” Carfield said.
Hibbing said the fire didn’t completely sour her experience with Wyman. She was a counselor last year and will be this year as well.
“I am excited. I’m not sure how I feel about sleeping in the cabins, but the odds of two fires is pretty low, so I think I’ll be good,” Hibbing said.
Carfield and McEvoy hope to go back as well.
“For a few years I never wanted to go to sleepaway camp again, but now I’m able to see that was an unusual circumstance and probably wouldn’t happen again,” Carfield said.
“We were both thinking about being counselors this year, but it didn’t work out. I think next year,” McEvoy said.
Lydia Urice – Editor in Chief
This will be Lydia Urice’s third year on ECHO staff. She made several contributions while taking journalism class her freshman year. She was Podcast Editor for her first year on staff, and Junior Editor her second year.
This will be Ali Schlutz’s first year on ECHO staff, but she made several contributions while taking journalism class her freshman year.