Springs Fire forces evacuations for Jewish institutions in Ventura County

Synagogue leaders are reporting that the Springs Fire has affected Jewish institutions in Ventura County, including two Malibu camps run by Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) and synagogues Temple Ner Ami, Temple Etz Chaim and Temple Adat Elohim. As of Friday morning, the blaze had consumed more than 8,000 acres of land, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.

WBT’s Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp were forced to evacuate on Thursday night. More than 130 elementary school students of the Los Angeles County Outdoor Science School were bused from the grounds of Camp Hess Kramer, and 40 high school students from Oak Park High School were evacuated from Gindling Hilltop Camp.

At least 30 member-families of synagogues Temple Ner Ami in Camarillo as well as Temple Etz Chaim and Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks were evacuated from their homes on Thursday, according to rabbis and spokespeople from those synagogues. This evacuees included residents of affected areas Camarillo Springs and Newbury Park, two of the areas hit hardest by the fire.

By Thursday night, they were able to return to their homes, and none of those synagogues’ campuses were damaged.

The fire first broke out on Thursday morning, May 2,  in Camarillo Springs along the 101 Freeway, and began approaching Pacific Coast Highway by midday. It has caused road closures and evacuations from schools, homes and places of business, and continues to blaze.

The flames did not reach the 200-acre property shared by Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp in Little Sycamore Canyon, situated between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The blaze reached land adjacent to the property, on the other side of a ridge in the Santa Monica Mountains, according to Howard Kaplan, executive director of WBT, which owns and operates the camps.

No camp property has been damaged, and all flames nearby were put out by Ventura County Fire Department firefighters, Kaplan said.

“Right now we’re fine, but we’re on standby because we have to be,” Kaplan told the Journal on the afternoon of Friday, May 3.

During the school year, the L.A. County Outdoor Science School runs weeklong residential programs for elementary students of L.A. county public schools at Camp Hess Kramer. The program leases the site from WBT. Similarly, the synagogue rents out the Hilltop camp to schools holding retreat programs.

The L.A. County Outdoor Science School students –  fifth- and sixth-graders from a Los Angeles United School District school and a Baldwin Park school (Kaplan did not give the names of the schools) – departed from Camp Hess Kramer on buses that took them to Malibu High School on Thursday night. From there, they were bused to the LAUSD and Baldwin Park schools. The students at Hilltop were bused back to Oak Park High School on Thursday night.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department ordered the evacuations from the camps. The camps immediately obliged.

“We always err on the side of safety,” Kaplan said.