Anyone who knows of a venue can contact Jay Wallace at (209) 768-8209.

The Tuolumne County Hi 4-H club would be celebrating the 20th anniversary of its “Realms of Darkness” haunted house this Halloween season, but the popular attraction will likely be cancelled for the second year in a row due to a lack of a venue that can host it.

Jay Wallace, the project leader for the annual haunted house since 1999, said they’ve explored several options over the past year but none have panned out mostly due to regulatory red tape and insurance concerns.

“We have to find (a building) with fire sprinklers now, then you have insurance companies who don’t want to do it,” he said.

The house was hosted every year the red barn off South Washington Street behind Sonora Lumber from 2007 until last year, with the exception of 2016 due to safety concerns and insurance liabilities by the Modesto branch of JS West, which previously leased the property.

Appeals to JS West’s local office allowed for the attraction to make its return at the barn in 2017, but the lease transferred to Sonora Lumber the following year.

Andrew McGuirk, general manager of Sonora Lumber and Calaveras Lumber in Angels Camp, said the reason they can no longer host the haunted house at the barn is because their insurance company won’t let them.

“We would obviously love to help, but our hands are kind of tied,” he said. “Unfortunately … it’s hard to make it completely safe for everybody.”

Wallace said some of the other options they looked at included the former Orchard Supply Hardware or Cost-U-Less building in the Sonora Plaza shopping center, but were told they couldn’t because other people were interested in the spaces.

They also looked at the former movie theater near the shopping center, but determined that there would be fire-safety issues.

Wallace said he believes some of the liability concerns related to fire were likely made worse by the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland that killed 36 people in December 2016.

“There are some places we just can’t use because there’s no ADA access to them,” he said. “There’s nothing available.”

As a teenager, Wallace was among the first group of 4-H members who organized annual haunted houses.

The attractions were sometimes hosted in old houses, empty stores and even the one-room Poverty Hill Schoolhouse in Stent.

They hosted them at different empty stores in The Junction shopping center in East Sonora from 1999 to 2006, before the red barn became the venue. Most of the props and walls for the house are being stored at the barn due to a lack of another place.

Wallace said they’ve looked at doing an outdoors fright maze in an open area, but they would have to make sure the ground is level so a wheelchair could be safely pushed throughout.

There’s also a concern about hosting an outdoor haunted house maze without a roof due to the unpredictability of the weather at that time of year.

“There are some things we can’t let get wet, and you don’t want kids standing out in the rain,” he said. “That makes it more difficult, for at least what we do.”

The attraction is intended to be a fundraiser for the Hi 4-H members to help pay for their projects and activities, including feed or equipment for livestock, attending 4-H camp, or going on the club’s annual trip to Disneyland.

Wallace estimated they raised about $3,000 from the haunted house each year, which they’ve tried to replace with selling wreaths at Christmas and other smaller fundraisers throughout the year.

“They get to learn how to work, keep track of their hours, follow directions, work with each other, acting, make-up, some construction… There’s a little bit of everything,” he said of the other benefits.

A solid offer would need to come through soon to resurrect the attraction this year, though Wallace said he’s not sure it would be possible even if someone did come forward with a viable venue.

“It would be great if somebody could step up,” he said. “We need something permanent, but anything would help.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocart.com or (209) 588-4530.

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