Wildfires and heavy winds continue to make life challenging for residents of California. While life continues as normal for many in the major population centers like Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, others don’t have to go far to experience the smoky haze, evacuation orders and power outages associated with major parts of the state.

In Simi Valley, where winds were gusting at more than 50 miles per hour on Wednesday, the Easy Fire was reported around 6:30 a.m. Within hours, it had burned 1,300 acres, and had moved ever closer to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Classes at the nearby Brandeis-Bardin Campus of the American Jewish University were canceled, and the Torah scrolls from Congregation B’nai Emet in Simi Valley were evacuated, as were some congregants.

Rabbi Michele Paskow, religious leader of Congregation B’nai Emet, said “our synagogue is very close to where the fire started, less than a mile away. One of our members quickly went to the shul and took the Torahs out to make sure they are safe. No one has been injured; we are just on edge, waiting to see if we need to leave our homes.”

Paskow notes that many have reached out to her and her congregation, including local colleagues, the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ rapid response team and representatives of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ security initiative.

A state of emergency was declared earlier this week by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and remains in effect as fires continue to be fueled by dry conditions and strong winds.

In Northern California, the Kincade Fire continues to burn in Sonoma County, where it has already destroyed more than 76,000 acres, though the damage seems to have spared the county’s largest population center, Santa Rosa. That is in stark contrast to the Tubbs Fire that occurred two years ago in October 2017, which destroyed many homes in the city.

An image of Camp Newman after the Tubbs fire destroyed 80 percent of its buildings in October 2017. Credit: CampNewman.org.

Camp Newman, a Union of Reform Judaism camp located in Santa Rosa, lost 80 percent of its buildings in the 2017 Tubbs Fire. They have yet to be rebuilt; a groundbreaking is scheduled for later this fall.

“Thankfully, the Kincade Fire has averted us, and we have remained completely safe,” says Alaina Yoakum, director of marketing and communication at Camp Newman. “We were in an evacuation zone, but all the reports we are hearing are positive.”

Noting that some Camp Newman families are being impacted by the fires either in northern or southern California, Yoakum says the camp is planning to send out a tip sheet with ways people can help.

“I think everyone in the community who isn’t directly impacted is looking for ways to reach out and help others in the community,” she explains. “We are really lucky because after the Tubbs Fire, we created all these great relations with our neighbors, with the firefighters and others in community. We have this network of support that didn’t exist then, and we have all been reaching out and communicating.”

According to Carol Appel, Jewish concierge of Sonoma County for the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund in San Francisco, “So many people have been evacuated and lost power that the some congregations and agencies have closed their doors for several days. Many normal programs were postponed. The communities have been scattered for days.”
Two of the synagogues in Santa Rosa, Congregation Beth Ami and Congregation Shomrei Torah, are both planning to hold Shabbat dinners this Friday as some of the evacuation orders are starting to be lifted.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Getty Fire, which is only 27 percent contained and has burned some 740 acres, once again caused the closure of several Jewish institutions, including the Milken Community Schools and Wise School.

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