'Heartbreaking': Beloved summer camp, Okizu, for children affected by cancer, burns in North Complex fires

Camp Okizu says its facility in Berry Creek in Butte County sustained "significant damage."

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ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Friday, September 11, 2020
Beloved summer camp burns in Butte Co. wildfire
A beloved summer camp for children and families affected by cancer burns in the North Complex fires in Butte County.

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- A beloved camp for children affected by cancer has burned in the North Complex.

Camp Okizu says its facility in Berry Creek in Butte County sustained "significant damage."

RELATED: Camp Okizu marks 35 years of helping kids with cancer

For almost two decades, ABC7 has followed the summer camp, which offers hope for the patients and their families. Now the camp needs the community's help in order to survive another summer.

Nestled on a little lake in the woods, Camp Okizu was a refuge for families and children fighting cancer.

"It feels so sad that something with so many precious memories has just been so scarred," said Janie Dawes, whose five children have all attended Okizu.

Her youngest, Aoife, was diagnosed with a rare lung tumor when she was 6-months-old.

"So many children who come there have scars and Okizu now has got its scars, but it's still really heartbreaking," said Dawes through tears.

VIDEO: Evacuees describe racing for safety as wildfire explodes in size in Butte County

New evacuation orders have been issued for the Bear Fire near Oroville, north of Sacramento and south of Chico. Mandatory evacuations are spread across parts of Plumas, Butte, and Yuba counties.

"The place might be gone right now, but the people definitely aren't," said Anna Dawes.

For Anna, 16, and Niamh, 13, those people are other kids, whose siblings also have cancer.

"When she was first diagnosed, I had just turned six and I didn't really understand what was going on. I just kind of understood that she's in the hospital, mom's gone, what are we doing? But then Okizu kind of helped me understand that there's other people going through this and that we need to go through this together," explained Niamh.

Aoife is now 8, cancer free, and a three year veteran camper. "I love swimming there, I also love the camp fires, those are really fun," she said.

RELATED: Novato nonprofit Camp Okizu offers help, hope to kids with cancer

But because Aoife's cancer is genetic, every three months, she has scans, blood draws and treatments. She says Okizu allows her to feel something important between all the doctor visits. "We kinda like pretend we are normal."

"It was such a magical place for so many people for such a long time," said Dr. Mike Amylon, a pediatric oncologist at Stanford.

He helped found Okizu almost 40 years ago, where 800 kids now camp every summer. Many of the campers are his patients.

"It completely changed the relationship that we had the next time they came back to the clinic they were much less nervous and frightened. You know I was a familiar face that had been able to play games with them at camp."

The camp is free to all families and Dr. Amylon said they will find a way to rebuild, but they need help.

Camp Okizu says all donations are being matched right now (until they reach $100,000) in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which is September. You can double your donation here. Any amount helps.

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