Fires disrupt commutes, athletic events

The raging California wildfires forced faculty and students to evacuate their homes, complicated commutes to school and interfered with athletic events two weeks ago. 
The school, government agencies and CIF recommended the cancellation of all athletic activity due poor air quality.

Sixteen upper school students had absences and tardies due to the fires, Attendance Coordinator Gabriel Preciado said. Three students were forced to evacuate, and four faculty members missed school to protect their homes from the fires.

Science teacher Antonio Nassar evacuated his home in Valencia on the morning of Oct. 22. His home was two miles away from the Ranch fire, but was untouched by the flames. Many people offered Nassar a place to stay during his eight-hour evacuation.

While Nassar was at school, his wife and two daughters temporarily resided at the home of science teacher Wendy Van Norden. It was a period of uncertainty that Nassar claims he will never forget.

“It was a moment where I thought I would almost be left with nothing,” Nassar said. “As a father, this was a very stressful and hard situation.”

Nassar hopes that stricter environmental regulations will help prevent any other wildfires from spreading again.
He is currently researching alternatives and precautions that could be an answer to wildfires. He believes that the use of new technology and stricter regulations can prevent any fire season.

“Helicopters and firefighters can control any fire, but the real fight is on the ground before they even happen,” Nassar said.

Throughout the entire experience, Nassar was relieved with amount of support the school offered.

“It’s an experience to learn from and get stronger,” Nassar said. “You have to think this way, because the art of living is giving solutions to problems. We all have to be able to live under changeable weather.”

Due to poor air quality, athletic practices were cancelled and intense aerobic activity was prohibited throughout the week.

The boys’ water polo game and girls’ tennis games were canceled by the Athletic Department on Oct. 22. All athletic teams were restricted from heavy workouts.

“For high school sports, health and safety are always a first priority,” Head of Athletics Audrius Barzdukas said. Two-thirds of the student population participates in school sports, Barzdukas said.

“Not having our workouts definitely hurt us,” Terhon O’Neal ’09 said, who plays on the varsity football team. “We came out soft because we were not adequately prepared.”

Assistant football coach Dave Levy restricted the team from doing any conditioning. They did not take out a single football that week.

“Everyone on the volleyball team had really bad sore throats the next day,” Claire Soley ’09 said, who had a heavy workout in Taper Gymnasium despite the poor air quality.
Upper school history teacher Leslie Rockenbach did not come to school on Oct. 23. Her neighborhood in Topanga was under voluntary evacuation and was 14 miles away from the Canyon Fire. She stayed home to collect only her most valuable possessions; her pets and a photograph of her grandmother.

“The canyon is a spiritual sanctuary that was a far greater concern for me,” Rockenbach said. “You can take for granted the beauty of where you live, but I am grateful whenever I look out my window.”
The scenic view Rockenbach enjoys from her house at the top of the mountain was untouched by the fire.

“I felt a rich sense of community and gained empathy for those who have lost their homes,” Rockenbach said. “Times of crisis can sometimes bring out the best in people.”

Rockenbach and her neighbors gathered together in their two-acre community to support each other during this crisis. Rockenbach said she gained a greater sense of empathy for those who have experienced an unexpected loss in their lives.

Three upper school students were forced to evacuate their homes.

“It felt like a dark blanket of heat and smoke was suffocating our neighborhood,” Chris Cheng ’09 said, who evacuated his home in Simi Valley. “Electricity was out, and it was impossible to breathe.”

Cheng stayed at a friend’s house for the week.

The Pacific Coast Highway was closed during the week, causing commute complications for many students in the Malibu area.

Director of Inter-Campus Security Kevin Giberson said the school is always prepared to face wildfire emergencies.

“We are in a brush area, and we always need to be aware that situations like this could happen,” Giberson said.

There are three days worth of food and water stored at school for everyone on campus in case of an emergency situation.

Generators, portable radios, and tents are also stored, Giberson said. Giberson saw the flames of the Buckweed Fire from home in Lake Castaic, but did not have to evacuate his home.