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Pepperdine Wildfires

Saturday, November 3, 2007  
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By Alison Roberts

“We weren’t worried about our trip to Oklahoma,” Pepperdine University senior Zach Love said. “We weren’t sure that we would be able to get back onto campus when we got home.”

For five attendees of World Mission Workshop, the trip to Oklahoma Christian University came on the heels of an expansive fire that endangered their beach-side campus.

On Oct. 21 Pepperdine University, located in Malibu, Calif., found itself in the path of one of many fires that swept southern California that weekend.

“The fires were close to campus early in the morning,” Love said. “There was a lot of smoke all around.”

Love, who lives with his grandparents in the faculty housing at the edge of campus, said by the time he awoke, university officials were already busy gathering students into the cafeteria at the center of campus.

“The sky turned yellow and black. We could see the flames coming over the hills,” Love said.

Andrew Turvey, a junior at Pepperdine, had a strange feeling the night before the fires reached campus.

“It was an altogether eerie night before [the fires reached us]. I thought someone was just smoking somewhere near me,” Turvey said.

The fires began in Malibu Canyon and were fanned rapidly by high winds, according to a report issued by foxnews.com. A fleet of more than 700 firefighters descended upon the city in an attempt to rescue several homes and businesses in Pepperdine’s surrounding community, including the homes of many Hollywood celebrities.

“Fortunately, the campus was landscaped so that fires would follow a brush line around the outside of campus,” Love said.

Pepperdine’s property sustained minimal damage. Landscaping near the President’s home and a few maintenance vehicles were all the school lost, said Love.

Pepperdine had recently changed the wood decks of the faculty housing to a non-flammable plastic material that was able to prevent any damage to faculty housing.

According to Pepperdine sophomore Joe Paul nearby canyon roads and the famed Pacific Coast Highway were closed to allow the rescue teams greater access to the danger zones. Pepperdine served as a staging ground from where the firefighters and rescue crews could fight fires.

“Reclaimed water ponds around campus were used to put out the fires,” Paul said.

Pepperdine usually participates in a program to house firefighters near potential wildfire areas.

“The university didn’t participate in the program this year, which breaks a long record of their participation,” Love said.

Though the fires destroyed more than $1 billion worth of property from San Diego to northern Los Angeles County and was declared a disaster area by President Bush, Love finds reasons to be optimistic about the situation.

“It is a good chance for us to seek out the greater Malibu community and work with them,” Love said.

Many Pepperdine University students attend Malibu Presbyterian Church, which was completely destroyed in the fire. University officials have already offered the congregation a place to worship on campus until they are able to rebuild.

“This has given us an opportunity to reach out to the members of Malibu Presbyterian,” Love said.

The campus is already home to University Church of Christ. Love says he believes the two groups meeting on the university campus will bring a greater sense of unity among students and members of the community.

Pepperdine University administration cancelled classes Monday and Tuesday following the fires, but resumed classes later in the week.

“We’re ready to get back to normal,” senior Lauren Waugh said. “Everyone is doing the best they can to make things better.”


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