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Deadly blaze in Southern California

Julie Rudolph

As the flames in Southern California slowed down late Wednesday afternoon, the relief on Mills Campus was palpable. Though far from the fire’s heat, many Mills students spent the past few days calling friends and family for updates. What happened to their homes?

Senior Charlotte Riggert, from San Diego, had a grandmother in the hospital when the call for evacuation came. Her grandmother was sent to a different hospital but her family did not know to which of the sixteen still operating hospitals she was transferred.

“I just felt so bad for my grandma. She can’t like having to evacuate. She was probably scared and nervous, and when she’s nervous, she cries,” Riggert said.

After calling area hospitals for hours, her family finally located her grandmother.
Both grandparents and her uncle have since moved into her dad’s house.

They hope her grandparents will have a home to go back to, but they are happy to have each other. “It’s better now, I’m relieved that I know my family’s together in our house,” she said.

Other Mills students said that they have bad memories of past fires.

Sophomore Amanda Bailey, whose family lives in Malibu, has dealt with fires her whole life. Bailey recalls one incident when she was a junior in high school and had to evacuate her house. Bailey said that she and the rest of her family ran to the beach and got in the water. Bailey’s family stood and stared, watching the fires come over the hills, terrified that flames would jump the California Pacific Highway 1 and reach them.

Another Mills student, junior Tenagne Habte-Michael, was working for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservatory when her team was evacuated during the 1997 Malibu fires. She said that she was not afraid during the evacuation, but “coming back and seeing all the burned down houses and burned trees was scary.”

Habte-Michael is not worried about her family. They live in central Los Angeles, which has not yet been affected.

The fires in Southern California began on Oct. 20, and according to the Associated Press’s Oct. 25 report, caused ten deaths and destroyed at least 1,800 homes.

Last Wednesday, President Janet Holmgren sent out a memorandum, offering support. “The fires that are occurring in Southern California leave us concerned for many family, friends and colleagues. Our hearts and support go out to the communities that are affected, and most specifically to the families who have lost their homes and families who have been evacuated,” she wrote.

The fire could affect high school seniors applying to Mills College. The annual college admission time is the fall, but some college fairs have been cancelled due to the fire, said Giulietta Aquino, dean of admission. She said a Mills Admission Officer in San Diego, Vivienne Damaton, has been staying at her family’s home and is wearing a face mask because of the poor air quality.

“It is definitely impacting outreach and recruitment,” Aquino said.

Over fifteen percent of this year’s entering class comes from the San Diego and Los Angeles areas, Aquino said.

For long-time members of the Mills community, these fires bring back memories of the Oakland Hills fires in 1991. Aquino, then a Mills student, remembers looking at the flames surrounding the Claremont Hotel. The hotel survived, but the homes of some faculty members did not, said Aquino.

Mills did not evacuate in 1991 and hopefully it will not be in danger in the future. President Holmgren stressed that the College is prepared for disaster. “We have in place an emergency preparedness plan, a public safety system, and an established protocol to follow in the event of any life threatening emergency,” President Holmgren wrote.