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‘It’s hard to breathe’: about 40 students treated at health center during brush fire

The Student Health Center treated about 40 students Oct. 9 for health issues related to the Anaheim Hills brush fire, which burned about 8,000 acres and has destroyed 14 structures in Anaheim, Orange and Tustin, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

The fire, which is 40 percent contained as of Oct. 11, has closed freeways, roads and other schools and colleges in the area. Chapman was closed, but not evacuated.

Students sought medical care at the health center for issues ranging from respiratory issues to cold symptoms that were worsened by the fire. Two students came to the health center with ash in their eyes, said Director of Student Health Jacqueline Deats.

“With the fire and smoke and wind, it was kind of exacerbating (students’) symptoms, which made them come in to get evaluated,” said Director of Student Health Jacqueline Deats. “Yesterday was just a high level of things related to air quality.”

The fire, which began at about 9:30 a.m. yesterday, resulted in classes being canceled Oct. 9 and Oct. 10. Evacuations have been issued for areas surrounding the fire, including East Orange.

Jordan Wilhelm, a junior kinesiology major, left her apartment complex near campus in the wake of the fire to stay at a friend’s house in Pasadena, although she does not live in a mandatory evacuation area.

“It’s hard to breathe… It’s just like, there’s not enough oxygen in the air, almost,” Wilhelm said. “And I don’t want to breathe in deeply, even though I feel like I have to, just because I know it’ll be bad for me to do that.”

Michaela McLeod, a senior film production major who lives in East Orange, one of the areas included in the evacuation, said that part of why she and her roommate left the city is because they have two kittens who they didn’t want breathing in the smoke.

“We were very concerned with their well-being,” McLeod said. “I wasn’t necessarily scared, but it was just a cautionary thing, so if anything were to happen we wanted to make sure we’d be prepared.”

Sienna Newton, a sophomore psychology major who has asthma, said that she didn’t see a point in going to the health center, because she wasn’t sure that they would be able to help her.

“I can’t really breathe, like at all, and my house is old, so I can’t even breathe the air when I’m inside,” Newton said. “When I do, it just really doesn’t feel safe. It almost just feels like I’m breathing in thick ash, and sometimes literal ash would fly into my face.”

While the university has not announced whether classes will resume Oct. 11, Provost Glenn Pfeiffer said that he, President Daniele Struppa and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Harold Hewitt were in communication throughout the night.

“I was in here before 7 a.m. this morning,” Pfeiffer said. “I’m hopeful we can resume tomorrow as normal.”

Wilhelm said that although it’s been nice to have extra time to study for her midterms while her other classes were canceled, she is worried about fire spreading.

“I feel pretty safe, but there’s still some worry in the back of my head that I’ll come back to Orange and it’ll be worse than when I left,” Wilhelm said.

Pfeiffer said that it’s up to individual faculty members to decide how they will structure their classes after the cancellations.

“Any students that weren’t able to prepare for a midterm exam, for example, should be given consideration,” Pfeiffer said. “I think faculty are understanding and willing to respond. Those are all legitimate reasons for delay, hopefully it shouldn’t be a problem.”

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