Features Spotlight California fires

Some students’ lives rocked as fires blaze through Southern California

As of Wednesday morning, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County had burned 65,500 acres and was 0 percent contained. Photo courtesy of Keaton Shiffman

The boarding school where Kendall Shiffman lived for 12 years has been burned to the ground. Ojai Valley School, located in Ojai, California, is one of the 100 structures destroyed and 15,000 threatened by the Thomas Fire.

“The school I went to has burned to ashes. The journalism room I was in charge of has vanished into thin air,” said Shiffman, a sophomore strategic and corporate communication major. “To say that the fire is a disaster is a gross understatement. The little valley I call home looks like a nuclear bomb has gone off.”

The Thomas Fire in Ventura County has destroyed at least 150 structures. Photo courtesy of Keaton Shiffman

Southern California is ablaze and in a state of emergency. Four fires engulfing Ventura and Los Angeles counties threaten the homes of thousands, including some Chapman students.

The Thomas Fire of Ventura County broke out on Dec. 4. As of Thursday morning, it had burned 96,000 acres and was 5 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). It has destroyed structures including a large apartment complex and the Vista Del Mar hospital, a psychiatric facility.

Taylor Aronow, a ‘17 alumna, also attended Ojai Valley School, calling it her “second home.” She said everyone was evacuated Monday night and the fire got to the school Tuesday morning.

“The night of Dec. 5, I got an email that, while everyone (in the boarding school) made it out safely, the dorms and a main building burnt down,” said Aronow. “It was hard to hear, having lived there for four years and having so many memories there.”

The Thomas Fire has threatened the safety of residents in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Many are preparing to evacuate.

“It’s difficult to see how much damage this fire has caused the communities that I grew up in,” said Gabi Montes De Oca, a junior biological sciences major from Carpinteria, a city in Santa Barbara County. “Both my siblings have had their schools close down due to the fire, and my family is preparing to evacuate if they are told to do so.”

On the heels of the Thomas Fire are four other fires blazing in the greater Los Angeles area.

The Skirball Fire awoke many Los Angeles residents early this morning. Due to the Santa Ana winds, expected to reach 60 mph, the fire has already burned 475 acres and is 5 percent contained, as of Thursday morning, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. The fire threatens homes in Bel-Air and the Getty Center of Art, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Skirball Fire also threatens the safety of UCLA, and classes were canceled Thursday.

“My best friend goes to UCLA, and she is really unnerved about the school’s reaction,” said Katherine Shields, a junior public relations and advertising major. “The students are hearing so much about the fire from social media, but not from their university about how to proceed. She has packed a bag in case she has to get out quickly.”

In addition to the Skirball Fire, the Rye Fire and Creek Fire are burning in the northern Los Angeles area. The fires are 15 and 10 percent contained, respectively, as of Thursday morning, according to CAL FIRE.

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