By Miriam Raftery
Photo by Nadin Abbott
August 22, 2017 (Mount Laguna) — Many of you may know the Shriners as the clowns in fez hats driving miniature cars to delight crowds at the Mother Goose Parade each year. But they also own hospitals across the nation dedicated to treating children.
During the July, 2013 Chariot Fire on Mount Laguna, the Al Bahr Shrine Camp was devastated, losing nearly all of their 150-building including a lodge nearly a century old, rental cabins, and cabins owned by individual Shriners’ members. But now the charitable organization has suffered another devastating loss.
Even though state investigators concluded that the fire was caused by a federal Bureau of Land Management Jeep with a catalytic converter that ignited dry brush, U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia ruled last week that the Shriners are not entitled to a penny in compensation from the federal government.
That’s because the Shriners had been operating their camp on public lands since the 1920s, under special use permits granted by the Cleveland National Forest. Those permits required the Shriners to assume all risk of loss to structures, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Barring a reversal on any potential appeal, that means the Shriners can’t collect anything from the federal government for their lost cabins or lodge. There are other defendants, however, including Jeep’s manufacturer, if the Shriners can provide evidence of a malfunction or known defect. Individual Shriners with private property may still collect the value of their structures’ contents, if not the dwellings themselves.
The Shriners had made a good faith effort to clear the land at their own expense after the fire, even providing erosion abatement that the Forest Service requested, the Al Bahr Shriners webpage states. Yet despite approving the clearance, the Forest Service has not renewed the Shriners’ use permit, a matter still in negotiation but stalled for over a year, the Shriners’ site indicates, making it less and less likely that the group will ever be able to rebuild the camp that brought cherished memories to generations of local Shriners.