MALIBU, Calif. — Andy Canales remembers the eerie sensation of heat that lingered on the campus of Pepperdine University, days after fires swept through this picturesque, coastal city.
Canales, a senior majoring in political science and religion, was in his off-campus home when flames roared across Southern California in the early hours Sunday, Oct. 21.
Two days later he returned to campus and found acres of scorched earth, nearly reaching Pepperdine’s theme tower, an obelisk emblazoned with a cross, that dominates the university’s eastern landscape. “It could have been a lot worse,” Canales said, echoing a campus-wide sentiment.
Pepperdine is built to survive fires. In addition to 200-yard firebreaks, the campus has detailed emergency procedures.
As the flames approached, on-campus students and personnel gathered in the university’s cafeteria and waited for the all-clear. A new emergency alert system notified the campus community by calling their cell phones. Pepperdine — and other schools across the nation — implemented the system in the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech earlier this year, said Jim Gash, associate dean for student life at Pepperdine’s School of Law.
Linda Truschke was in Denver assisting with the wedding of former Pepperdine students when her cell phone rang and she heard the message about the fires. The campus minister for the University Church of Christ quickly called home to make sure her husband and two sons, ages 6 and 8, were OK. They were on their way to the evacuation center.
Though Pepperdine was spared, the fires destroyed the off-campus apartment of a small group of students, a Presbyterian church across the street from campus and the home of Bernie and Connie James, both faculty at Pepperdine, and their son, Mike, a student at the university.
Pepperdine and the University church are providing support for people affected by the fires, Truschke said. Students and church members are planning relief trips to the San Diego area with Hilltop Rescue and Relief, a ministry overseen by the Hilltop Community Church of Christ in nearby El Segundo.
Canales, president of Pepperdine’s student government, said that students are planning a fund-raiser to help with relief efforts throughout Southern California. Bernie James, a professor of law, and his family are living on campus as they rebuild their lives. “Now we find ourselves on the receiving end of the type of Christian love that we read about in the Bible,” he told The Christian Chronicle.
“There is a blessing in everything that happens in life,” he said. “We only lost our house. God is good. We are experiencing that each day as we go forward.”