ASHFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — As investigators look for a cause of the fire at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, News 8 has an exclusive look at devastation up close for the first time.
“Seeing the devastation, the smoldering…I burst into tears,” Program Director Hilary Axtmayer told News 8’s Dennis House.
It’s been 10 days since the fire at a place that is so special for so many people.
“I spoke to a mom who told me her children want to give their allowance to the camp,” Axtmayer said.
The camp is a haven for 20,000 seriously ill children every year. Axtmayer said the fire broke hearts across the world, especially because the camp was closed last year due to COVID-19.
“This is tough because this place meant so much to so many people. As soon as it happened the outpouring was huge.”
The damage is tough to look at. The woodshop destroyed, the cooking center in ruins, the arts and crafts center a charred mess. You can make out a large sheriff’s badge and a refrigerator, but not much else.
The fire burned for a while before help could arrive. Firefighters faced many challenges as they arrived on the scene, namely getting water to put out the flames.
The nearest hydrants were pretty far away and they weren’t traditional hydrants. The water came from a nearby pond and firefighters had to run hoses and then pump the hydrants all the while the camp was burning so hot nearby trees were scorched.
The fire was spreading so quickly the adjacent dining hall was in danger. Axtmayer credits firefighters for saving it.
“Ashford, East Hartford, and our friends at UConn…they knew this was a total loss and so they focused on saving this, and as you can see it didn’t cross the line.”
As soon as news of the fire broke, donations started pouring in, and Monday the camp announced the $1 million donation match provided by Travelers and the Travelers Championship had been met.
That along with another million dollars from Newman’s Own Foundation means there is enough money to start rebuilding.
“There is a little magic from Paul Newman and our community.”