Students and faculty face evacuation from OC fires

By Hope Algeo

Ash drifting through the air of Orange County shows that California’s fire season is officially in full swing.

Right after the devastating Sonoma County fires, more flames sprung up in California’s southern end in Coal Canyon and spread into Corona on Sept. 25.

It burned over 2,000 acres along the 91 freeway, evacuated 1,500 residents and damaged six buildings before it was 90% contained by Anaheim and Corona Fire Departments.

Fourth-year philosophy student Anthony Gonzalez was one of the thousands of residents whose home in Anaheim Hills got evacuated.

He received a call during his first class from his mother, who was at home with his grandma.

“By the time she saw on the news that our area was being evacuated, three police officers were knocking on our door, telling her she had to leave immediately,” said Gonzalez.

She had little time to retrieve much of anything, as “the hill behind [his] house was literally engulfed in flames.”

He spent the day comforting his grandma at a relative’s home in Fullerton, where the smoke made the sky black and orange.

The next Monday, the flammable brushes near Anaheim Hills ignited again.

Canyon Fire 2, as it was called, drove more than 16,000 residents out of Orange County.

Residents were allowed back at 7 p.m. on Tuesday as the fire ceased to threaten residential areas, but proceeded to burn 9,217 acres and destroy 23 structures by Thursday morning, according to the Anaheim Fire Department’s Twitter page.

Anaheim’s Fire Department has labeled both as vegetation fires, although they have yet to determine the cause of Canyon Fire 2 as of Tuesday.

Houses surrounding his home had caught fire, but luckily Gonzalez’s father knew to spray the house down with water, which was unaffected.

Gonzalez spent 30 minutes trying to get home to retrieve his pets from the house.

“My top priority was to make sure my animals were safe,” said Gonzalez.

Instead of facing traffic, he spent the remainder of the week at home.

“I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to get back into my neighborhood from all the police and barricades.”

Multiple freeway shutdowns, including the 91 and the 241-toll road increased traffic troubles for Cal Poly Pomona students commuting on the 60.

Several students and faculty members had to adjust travel times.

Patrick Kan, a fourth-year computer information systems student, had to wake up half an hour earlier in order to get to his 8:00 a.m. class on time.

Principles of Management Professor Zeynep Aytug emailed her students about having to leave Tuesday’s class early the next day.

Matthew Brinegar, a 2016 technical theatre alumnus from Tustin, almost had to evacuate.

“There was tons of ash, huge chunks,” said Brinegar.

He described the nature of the 91 as having “bumper to bumper traffic [that] starts at 5 a.m. and ends after 8 p.m.”

Many Irvine-bound commuters on the 91, who would also depend on the 241-toll road, had to change routes, making traffic on the 60 “terrible.”

This month has seen a historical high for California wildfires.

31 people were killed, nearly 40,000 residents evacuated and 3,500 structures were damaged or destroyed, according to ABC News.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection added up a total of 187,364 acres burnt just since Oct. 9.

Gonzalez brought up the importance of being prepared, especially in the case of wildfires.

“It’s not like a hurricane, where people are told to be ready a few days in advance. It is all of a sudden,” said Gonzalez.

Such events can also reinforce a sense of community, as neighbors come together to help each other.

“I think it really opened up a doorway to empathy as well,” said Gonzalez.

It is another reminder that the sweeping effects of global warming are officially at our doorstep, and such values can help bolster against an unsure future.

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