The Road Back Home: Evacuating and Returning

While some students and staff members dealt with evacuation
concerns by leaving UCSD, others spent the week-long break from classes taking
refuge on campus.

Like many students, Sixth
College senior Michael Kelly is a San Diego native. Though
Kelly lives away from his family’s Rancho Santa Fe home, he said he was glad
when the mandatory evacuations were lifted from his neighborhood so that he
could return home with his family to check on things.

“[My family] didn’t have much warning to pack up,” Kelly
said. “They had to leave the cat behind, and it was really kind of a fiasco.”

After seeing news reports of the fires, Kelly’s father
called his family at home and told them to leave immediately. They stayed with
friends in La Jolla for three days while the
fire swept through their neighborhood. Kelly was in San Diego for the 2003 Cedar Fires, but said
he felt the 2007 fires had a much greater impact.

“Everybody knows somebody who had to evacuate,” Kelly said.
“I was here for the Cedar Fires but it was nowhere as big as this … it got a
lot closer this time, at least to where I was.”

Graduate student Lauge Farnaes’ family lives in nearby
Jamul, where fires ravaged much of the rural locale. Farnaes said that even
though her family fled with their farm animals to her La
apartment, school officials were very accommodating.

“UCSD Police and Housing and Dining Services have been
awesome,” Farnaes said. “My folks got evacuated with two dogs, two horses and
one mule from the fire and we’re now in [the Mesa graduate-student apartments]
with the animals outside on the grass.”

Mira Mesa resident and Revelle College senior Alicia Yeh
packed her car on Oct. 22 and headed straight for Qualcomm Stadium with two of
her roommates.

“We did the voluntary evacuation,” Yeh said. “We started to
panic when the smoke was getting really thick … a couple of hours later they
did a mandatory evacuation of our area anyhow.”

Yeh spent the night in a tent and stayed at the stadium
until the mandatory evacuation was lifted from Mira Mesa the following

“People were friendly,” Yeh said of her Qualcomm experience.
“There were a lot of volunteers who gave us food, toothpaste, soap, tons of
blankets — everything you’d need.”

Though UCSD remained a safe distance out of harm’s way
throughout the duration of the fires, many students living on campus took the
week off from classes as an opportunity to leave school. Approximately 75
percent of student residents left campus, some to go home, others to take
week-long vacations, traveling to places like San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Sixth College freshman Kaveh Nikou lives on campus in a
residence hall but decided to stay, saying he wasn’t too concerned about his
safety on campus.

“[UCSD’s response to the fires] was pretty good,” he said.
“Although Monday night we weren’t sure what was going on and people weren’t
telling us much. [Tritonlink] was a big help.”

In addition to the Web site, he got most of his information
from his roommates. For Nikou and his friends, the fires came as a
much-welcomed break from classwork.

“I’ve been able to get back on track with homework and
stuff,” he said. “I’ve just been relaxing, talking to people; it’s a kind of
bonding experience even though at the same time it’s bad.”

Much like Nikou, Making of the Modern World lecturer Edmond
Chang spent time on campus last week, when his family had to evacuate their
Rancho Penasquitos home.

“Safety was the first concern — [UCSD] was close enough to
the ocean, in case the fire pushed west incessantly,” Chang said in an e-mail.
“Second, my kids had been in my office many times before, so I thought it would
be easier on them and on my mother than heading to Qualcomm.”

Chang, his spouse, three children and mother spent two
nights in his on-campus office.

“[Staying in my office was] very comfortable actually,”
Chang said. “There are couches in the lobby, drinking water from a dispenser,
great sushi for me and jumbo hot dogs for my kids from Cafe Ventanas and plenty
of computers for my spouse and I to keep track of news.”

Although his office was comfortable, Chang was pleasantly
surprised at the generosity and maturity from Eleanor Roosevelt College
students he said he experienced.

“After some of my MMW4 students found out about our
situation, we received many offers for us to use their apartments,” he said.
“Crisis reveals many things about people. I was reassured and inspired by what
I witnessed in my students this week.”

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