Piedmont resident Nicki Gilbert happened to be awake when she received an alarming 5:40 a.m. email on Aug. 7: In the middle of the night, fire had struck Ramah in the Rockies, a Jewish summer camp near Denver.
The 3 a.m. fire, which destroyed the camp kitchen, dining hall and administrative offices, triggered a camp-wide evacuation that included Gilbert’s 13-year-old son, Zak, and several other campers from the Bay Area. No one was hurt. As of early this week, the cause of the blaze had yet to be determined.
There were about 130 campers staying at Ramah when the fire broke out, according to the Denver Post, which reported that local firefighters quickly extinguished the fire. The camp is in a remote area near Cheesman Reservoir, about 85 miles from downtown Denver.
Campers and staff were relocated to an open field far from the fire, where they played games and sang while under supervision. They then boarded a bus to a synagogue in Denver, where volunteers provided them with food.
“I am a pretty calm person, but fire freaks me out,” Gilbert told J. “The first email [from the camp] had a subject line that said ‘Everybody is safe and sound. Everyone is accounted for.’”
In the wake of the fire, the camp was closed, with campers ultimately relocated to a JCC in Denver. Gilbert said she spoke to her son later in the day. “I asked if he was scared,” she recounted. “He said he wasn’t scared. He seemed OK, but emotional. He expressed a desire to come home.”
Rabbi Eliav Bock, the executive director of Ramah in the Rockies, noted in a message posted on Facebook, that the “immediate implementation of emergency protocols resulted in a calm and quick camp evacuation. Camp leaders also retrieved Torah scrolls and other important items, and all animals were released to safe areas away from the fire.”
Gilbert, who said her son did decide to leave camp early and come home, was relieved by the camp’s quick response. “The Ramah staff has been incredible, in terms of keeping the kids going and getting them to safety,” she said. “The email communication has been wonderful as well.”
Camp leaders said they are working on a plan for the last week of camp, which could include relocating to a nearby camp or returning to the Ramah in the Rockies with a mobile kitchen. For information and updates, see the camp’s Facebook page.
Ramah in the Rockies is one of nine overnight camps run by Ramah; two others are Camp Ramah Northern California near Monterey Bay and Camp Ramah in California in Ojai. Ramah, the camping arm of the Conservative movement, also runs five day camps in the United States.