Fire destroys part of Paul Newman's camp for ill children

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FILE - In this Thursday, June 9, 1988 file photo, Actor Paul Newman gestures as he arrives at "The Hole in the Wall" camp in Ashford, Conn. Newman is the camp founder and $7 million of profits from his "Newman's Own" Food Products, Inc. was contributed to help finance the camp. A fire on Friday evening, Feb. 12, 2021 destroyed four buildings at Paul Newmans Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for seriously ill children in Connecticut. (AP Photo/Bob Child. File)

ASHFORD, Conn. – A fire on Friday evening destroyed a large section of Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for seriously ill children in Connecticut.

Jimmy Canton, the chief executive of the camp in Ashford, said it appears no one was injured in the blaze, which was reported to fire officials through an automatic fire alarm just before 5 p.m. He said buildings housing the camp's store and arts and crafts, woodshop and cooking programs were destroyed.

“Although the cause of the fire is unknown at this time, what is known is that The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is a community devoted to hope and healing,” Canton said in a statement. “We will get through this in the way that we always have and always will — as a family.”

Tom Borgman, the deputy chief of the Ashford Volunteer Fire Department, said the fire destroyed two buildings, including a large structure that was made to look like the center of an old western town. Different sections of the wood-frame building were constructed to look like separate buildings, housing different programs, he said.

He said at least six other local departments assisted in putting out the fire.

“There was a heavy, heavy fire,” he said. “That section of the structure was burning pretty hard and it was close to the dining hall. It was very hard work that saved that.”

Borgman said it took about 90 minutes to bring the fire under control and firefighters were also able to save the camp's infirmary.

It was not immediately clear if anyone was working at the camp at the time of the fire and the origin and cause of the blaze were being investigated by federal, state and local authorities.

The camp, with extensive medical facilities on site, was founded by Newman in 1988 in the woods of eastern Connecticut, with a Western motif inspired by the late actor's movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

It provides summer camping experiences adapted for children with serious physical and medical limitations, although its traditional summer camp was canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The charity also runs outreach programs for children in more than 40 hospitals, clinics and other settings in the Northeast, serving more than 20,000 children each year.

The camp is funded in part through proceeds from the sale of “Newman's Own” brand products.