Powerhouse Fire Damage Forces Camp for Chronically Ill Children to Close

The Painted Turtle is seeking donations to fund recovery from the 50-square-mile blaze

By Melissa Pamer
|  Thursday, Jun 6, 2013  |  Updated 9:49 PM PDT
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The state-of-the-art

Michelle Valles

The state-of-the-art "Painted Turtle" camp in Lake Hughes sustained major smoke damage from the Powerhouse Fire. As a result, the camp was forced to close for the summer season. The camp catered to children with chronic or terminal illnesses, at little or no cost. Michelle Valles reports from Lake Hughes for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on June 6, 2013.

A state-of-the-art summer camp built specifically for children with chronic illnesses – many of whom cannot attend traditional camps – will not hold sessions for 800 campers this season because of damage from the Powerhouse Fire.

The Painted Turtle, which has served some 25,000 kids with serious disabilities and diseases, opened to campers in 2004 between Lake Elizabeth and Lake Hughes in northern Los Angeles County (map).

During the 50-square-mile Powerhouse Fire, which consumed mountainous terrain in the Angeles National Forest southwest of Lancaster, the camp saw 50 staffers on the site evacuated as flames threatened. The blaze began May 31 and was on Thursday 70 percent contained at 32,032 acres.

“The miracle is the camp is standing. All the buildings are still standing,” said co-founder Lou Adler. “The flames came right up to the buildings.”

Ninety percent of the vegetation on the 175-acre property was damaged, as were some outlying structures. There’s significant smoke damage, the camp said in a news release.

This week, the camp notified parents and campers – who Adler said look forward all year to their time at the Painter Turtle – that summer camp sessions were canceled.

“It’s heart-wrenching because, when you talk to them, the first thing is a gasp: ‘Oh no, not the Painted Turtle,’” Adler said. “This is the time that they can be normal kids.”

Each week from June 14 through mid-August, the camp caters to children with the same illnesses, ranging from kidney disease to hemophilia. The campers attend for free and, making lifelong friendships with others who share their conditions, Adler said.

Camp directors chose to shut down the camp in part because smoke damage will necessitate the replacement of high-tech air filters. The $30 million campus is built around a medical facility so that campers can have all their health needs met while there, Adler said.

The Painted Turtle is the realization of Adler’s wife Page’s dream since she worked as a teen at actor Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut, after which the California facility is modeled. The Painted Turtle is a member of the 30-camp network called the SeriousFun Camps, founded by Newman.

The camp will see replanting of landscaping, cleaning of buildings and ventilation, and repairs to some buildings, sheds, fences and lamp posts, according to a news release.

“We’ll be as good as new and better,” Adler said. “We’ll be bigger and better than we were before, when we celebrate our 10th anniversary.”

Adler said he expects rebuilding costs to range from $500,000 to $1 million, and he’s hoping insurance will cover much of it. The camp is accepting donations for its fire recovery fund on its website.

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