Long-running summer camp for youth burn survivors looking for a new home

With the closure of Camp Timber-lee, Burn Camp will move to a new location after 28 years. But program leaders say they're still focused on expanding.

A camp counselor helps a camper during a tie dye activity
Camp volunteer Sean Mars works with camper Mia Camarillo during a tie-dye activity at the Summer Camp for Burn Injured Youth in East Troy in 2021. Photo courtesy of Melissa Kersten

A long-running summer camp for youth burn survivors in Wisconsin is looking for a new home.

The Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin’s annual Summer Camp for Burn Injured Youth has been held at Camp Timber-lee in East Troy for the last 28 years. Known as “Burn Camp,” the week-long, overnight summer camp is free for kids who have experienced life-changing burn injuries.

Earlier this month, Camp Timber-lee owner Trinity International University announced it would be closing the property on March 5, citing financial problems and the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Michael Wos, executive director of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, said he was saddened to hear of the property’s closure.

“We have such a unique opportunity at Camp Timber-lee,” he said. “It’s really hard to imagine going anywhere else and someone else allowing us to do everything that we’ve done there, from bringing in our own staff and our own meals and our own activities to bringing in 50 fire trucks for a parade and 200 motorcycles on bike night.”

But Wos said his organization is “100 percent committed” to continuing Burn Camp and they’ve already been approached by more than 20 other camps offering to host the program.

He said 60 to 100 kids between the ages of 7 and 17 attend the camp each summer. But hospitalization data indicates that there are many more kids in the state who are eligible.

“There are more than a thousand kids that could benefit from Burn Camp if they only knew about it,” Wos said. “So our focus lately has been reaching those kids so we can bring them to Burn Camp and share those experiences with them, as well as expanding our programming for existing campers to go from the week-long summer camp to more year-round engagement.”

Caileigh Tatalovich is an intern for the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin and is a former Burn Camp participant. After being burned at the age of six, Tatalovich said she was a target of bullying and didn’t know any other burn survivors.

“I had to learn how to advocate for myself and stand up for myself … and camp taught me how to do that,” she said.

Tatalovich said the program is like many outdoor summer camps, where participants get to try archery, horseback riding, swimming and zip-lining. But she said it’s the camaraderie that sets the program apart.

“You don’t have to worry about being judged or being stared at because there are other kids that are like you,” she said.

She’s confident that’s one thing that won’t change about Burn Camp, even as it faces the closure of Camp Timber-lee and looks for a new location.

“I think that with change, better opportunities and better things can occur because of it,” Tatalovich said. “It’s a big one, but as long as we’re all together, I think that’s what matters the most.”