San Diego on fire, still burning

Since Monday, Oct. 22, wildfires in southern California have destroyed thousands of homes, burned hundreds of thousands of acres, killed just under a dozen people, and are still burning. A large area of San Diego was evacuated as the fires encroached on houses, schools, hospitals, and businesses.

Local colleges and universities cancelled classes for nearly the entire week, although more coastal schools held classes on Monday. The University of California, San Diego canceled classes beginning on Tuesday, citing health concerns over the ash falling from the sky that was almost an inch thick in areas close to the fires.

“Although the fires didn’t threaten UCSD directly, a bunch of commuter students couldn’t make it to classes. And although they could have re-opened on Thursday or Friday, they decided to let evacuated people regroup,” UCSD student Ryan Glovinsky said.

Even though the missed week represents one-tenth of a quarter, Glovinsky said, the school year has not been extended by any length of time. It will be left to the professors to decide what to do about the missed class time.

San Diego State University canceled classes as well, although the university listed additional reasons — with so many students commuting to school, the school was concerned that the additional traffic might impede emergency vehicles from getting to the fires quickly enough.

No colleges or universities have been destroyed during the fires; however, the flames came quite close to Pepperdine College in Los Angeles.

Carnegie Mellon students who are from the area remain concerned about the welfare of their family and friends back home.

“No one from my family had to be evacuated or lost their home, but my best friend and other people I know had their things packed and ready to go if they needed to evacuate,” said Lauren Krogh, a junior biological sciences and psychology major who is from San Diego.

While Krogh reported receiving no official response from the university, she has received support from housefellow Rowshan Palmer and her friends at Carnegie Mellon.
“[Rowshan] sent me a couple e-mails saying ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do,’ ” Krogh said. “The day I found out [about the fires], I got calls and e-mails from friends asking how things were going, so that was encouraging.”

The fires have burned approximately 531 square miles in about a week, an area roughly equal to 73 percent of the size of Allegheny County, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.

Investigators do not currently know how some of the fires started; however, they have determined that a downed power line started one of the fires, an out-of-control structure fire spread and started another, and an arson started at least one other fire, according to local newscasts.

Estimates vary, although the total fire cost lies somewhere above $1 billion — not including rebuilding homes, according to KBPS local news in San Diego.

However, in the midst of the tragedy, Krogh has been focusing on what she feels is most important — her friends and family.

“It’s such a relief to me that my immediate family wasn’t really affected,” she said. “Natural disasters help you realize what’s important in life. I’ve been realizing how blessed we are, and hoping that people can see the bigger picture of family and safety and health. It really does affect everyone.”