A fire on Friday evening destroyed a large section of Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut, a long-established haven for seriously ill children.
Officials in the nearby town of Ashford said they responded to an alarm and arrived to find a large fire in the main camp building, which resembles an old western town and was reportedly inspired by the late actor’s role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
It took about 90 minutes to contain the fire, officials said. The main building, housing the camp’s store and arts and crafts, woodshop and cooking programs, was destroyed. Crews were able to save adjacent buildings.
It was not immediately clear if anyone was working at the camp at the time of the fire and the cause of the blaze was being investigated by federal, state and local authorities.
Tom Borgman, deputy chief of the Ashford volunteer fire department, did not say if the fire was considered suspicious.
“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. Firefighters were able to save the camp’s infirmary.
Jimmy Canton, chief executive of the camp, said it appeared no one was injured in the blaze, which was reported to fire officials through an automatic alarm just before 5pm.
“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.”
The late actor, known for roles in The Hustler, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, won an academy award for best actor for The Color of Money in 1986.
The camp was founded by Newman in the woods of eastern Connecticut in 1988. It and a network of other camps and hospital outreach programs, are partly funded by sales of Newman’s Own popcorn, coffee, drinks, pasta sauce, salad dressing, frozen pizza and dog food.
According to the Newman’s Own Foundation website, the business has generated $550m for charity since 1982.
Newman said he got into the food business by accident in 1980, after he and the playwright AE Hotchner decided to make a batch of salad dressing in a bathtub. They poured the concoction into wine bottles and gave them to neighbours.
The business, with its motto “Shameless exploitation in pursuit of the common good”, grew quickly.
“Once people said, ‘You’re going to have to put your face on it,’ I decided that was tacky enough,” Newman told the New York Times, a decade before he died in 2008, aged 83. “I wish I could offer some high motive.”
The Connecticut camp damaged in the fire on Friday provides summer camping experiences adapted for children with serious physical and medical limitations. Its traditional summer camp was canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.