This California camp is a getaway for children with cancer. Now much of it has gone up in flames

A home is engulfed in flames during the "Creek Fire" in the Tollhouse area of unincorporated Fresno County, California early on September 8, 2020. - Wildfires in California have torched a record more than two million acres, the state fire department said on September 7, as smoke hampered efforts to airlift dozens of people trapped by an uncontrolled blaze. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)
California fire burns 1000 acres every 30 seconds
02:25 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

A camp for pediatric cancer patients and their families is yet another casualty of the wildfires scarring California as the Bear Fire, part of the North Complex, burned through the area.

“We are heartbroken to let you know that we were notified today that there has been significant fire damage to our beloved Camp Okizu at Berry Creek,” Executive Director Suzie Randall posted on the organization’s website.

Camp Okizu hosts about 700 kids each year, along with their siblings and parents, giving them a respite from hospitals and doctor appointments.

One of the structures at Camp Okizu that has burned to the ground.

It is not yet clear if anything is left of the camp, which had a large lodge, 32 cabins, an extensive ropes course, and an infirmary to care for campers undergoing chemotherapy or those who might need blood draws.

Live updates on the wildfires

Board Member Hanna Malak has been visiting the camp since he was 8, when his older brother had leukemia. “I just got hooked,” he said. “There’s no place like it.” Malak says Okizu creates a traditional camping experience where the kids all know how each other feel. “It creates a special bond,” he said. Malak’s brother has since recovered.

A photo of Camp Okizu before the wildfires.

“It is devastating,” Malak said of the destruction. “I think I’m going through the stages of loss and feel like I’m still in denial. It’s still hard to believe, but we are staying positive and are especially thankful no one was hurt.”

“We sometimes lose members to cancer and plant trees in their memory,” Malak said. Presently, the group doesn’t know whether that memory grove was spared.

“There are definitely a lot of memories made there, but the magic of Okizu is the people,” Malak said.

The threat of Covid-19 among a population of campers with compromised immune systems has left the camp empty during what would otherwise be a busy summer season. Okizu got creative, making what they call ‘Happy Camper Kits’ for each family, including ingredients for s’mores, T-shirts, and arts & crafts materials. They delivered the kits to each family and have been hosting virtual camps online since spring.

“Our hearts have been in our throats all day, and we’ve been following every news report, hoping against hope for a miracle,” the organization said in a news release. “There is nothing we can possibly say except that Okizu is a family, and as in any family, it is the people who matter most. We each carry Okizu within us, and that is something no fire can destroy.”

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