Recent devastating fires that ravaged Los Angeles saw one university student with Kinnitty connections get caught up in the terrifying events recently, the Tribune was told.
Siobhan de Cleir, whose father Piaras de Cleir is originally from Kinnitty, is a student at Pepperdine University in Malibu. The university is nestled between the Santa Monica mountain foothills and the Pacific ocean and is known as a very picturesque campus. However, on Friday November 9 last, as the Woolsey Fire bore down on the 830 acre campus, the school became the focus of controversy and confusion as Los Angeles county authorities issued a mandatory evacuation of Malibu while Pepperdine leaders advised students to shelter on campus.
As thousands of Malibu residents clogged the Pacific Coast Highway, heading south to safety in Santa Monica and beyond, some critics questioned whether the advice to students to remain behind put them at risk and was a dangerous gambit to force firefighters to devote more resources to the campus as the the Woolsey wildfire approached the hillside of the campus that night.
Speaking to the Tribune recently, Siobhan told her story about what happened on the ground at the university. “Basically what happened is that the day before, we got some alerts because the Santa Ana winds were really strong and there was a lot of debris from that. We were told to pack an emergency bag in case of evacuation but it wasn't played up as a priority for many people,” Siobhan said.
Then on the day of the evacuation, Siobhan explained they were woken up early to relocate to the cafeteria. With the power and the Wi-Fi out, the student wasn't able to get any service and therefore, wasn't able to look online at the events unfolding around them. “We could see an extremely large smoke cloud coming up over the mountain at the edge of our campus and people were getting scared. We were advised not to leave. However, there wasn't really clear instructions and not all information was shared.”
Traffic was chaotic on the Pacific Coast Highway at this stage, which made it hard to get out. However, Siobhan and her friend Layla made a break for it, having packed an overnight bag. “We didn't pack much because the school downplayed the situation so we didn't know we would be leaving for a longer period of time,” she continued.
The pair then drove to Layla's house, a journey that took them over seven hours in the traffic. Meanwhile, back at the school, Siobhan explained the students continued to leave despite being advised not to and students who didn't have car or a place to go had to stay on campus overnight while the school was also opened up to local residents so they could be safe.
“Particulate masks were issued and people slept in the library. My friend said they could see the glowing fire as the sun set and sky got darker. Eventually, Pepperdine let people leave and the verdict was issued that the campus would be closed and classes would resume on November 26 due to the poor air quality, smoke damage and physical damage to the surrounding areas,” she said.
Siobhan has since looked at overhead pictures of their campus afterwards and she was happy to see that the campus is still standing but the surrounding areas have been completely burnt back. According to local media, the Malibu campus only lost one vehicle, two container pods and one small storage trailer to the fire while elsewhere the fire destroyed hundreds of home and businesses as it blazed a trail through the area.