It’s been two months since the Thomas Fire burned its way into the history books as California’s largest wildfire in modern history. The fire, which started in Santa Paula and expanded due to Santa Ana winds, set ablaze large portions of the Ventura County. The fire burned over 281,900 acres of land, destroyed 1,063 structures and damaged another 280, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Matthew Fienup, economics professor and executive director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at Cal Lutheran, is a Ventura resident. In a routine drive along the coast of nearby Faria Beach, he recalled seeing the Faria Ranch Palm Tree Farm up in flames.
“It wasn’t just on fire, it was gone. It had entirely burned down,” Fienup recounted in an interview with the Huffington Post.
Sophomore water polo player Taggart Diehl and his family lost their Ventura home to the fire. Members of the Cal Lutheran community rallied around the aspiring fireman by launching a GoFundMe page on behalf of his family, raising over $6,611 in a campaign that set a goal of $5,000.
In a separate Thomas Fire Donation Drive set up by friends of Taggart, the Cal Lutheran community gave three trucks full of donations to the Red Cross in Ventura.
Michael Felix, manager of the Follett-owned bookstore that leases space at Cal Lutheran, looked for ways he could help with fire relief efforts. In a meeting with Follett’s upper management, the company settled on an idea that would allow students to add donations of either $1 or $5 to their purchases in the store.
Campus store employee Teri McKeehan said the donations were “fair, but inspiring.”
Cal Lutheran junior Morgan Towner was studying abroad in Sweden while her family was forced to deal with the ramifications of the sweeping fire.
“I was in Sweden on the buses, and there was my mom’s apartment showing up on TV,” Towner said. “I told my dad to go look at my mom’s apartment because my mom was in Mexico, but by the time my dad got there, the fire just got to it.”
Towner’s mother’s apartment in the Harbor View Villas in Ventura was one of the apartment complexes that completely burned to the ground. Towner said it was difficult being away because she “couldn’t comprehend what was going on,” but credits her friends for helping her to make it through.
“I wish I would have been home just to be there with my friends and family,” Towner said. “I just remember all my friends always sending me SnapChats like, ‘Okay, next round of waters,’ and I wish I was there to help them with that.”
Jordan Frazier, a native of Ventura and junior at Cal Lutheran, is an employee at Whole Foods in Oxnard. He said water was “flying off the shelves” in stores around the area.
“Much of Ventura was advised to boil tap water before drinking it,” Frazier said. “So we were running low on water because people were coming in and buying tons of bottled water.”
Though the Thomas Fire forced evacuations for members of the Cal Lutheran community, the fire never posed any immediate threat to the university’s Thousand Oaks campus. However, poor air quality forced the Los Angeles Rams to move their regularly scheduled Wednesday afternoon practice from their field on the northwest corner of campus into the Gilbert Sports and Fitness Center for an indoor walk-through.
“If there’s anything this fire can teach us, hopefully it’s that you just always have to be prepared and ready to go on a minute’s notice, because no matter where you are, you never know when something like that can happen again,” Frazier said.