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Campus closes Dec. 6 due to poor air quality from multiple fires in Ventura County and San Fernando Valley

Smoke+from+the+Rye+Fire+settles+over+the+Academic+Center+at+Moorpark+College.+The+fire+originates+from+Sylmar%2C+which+is+approximately+30+miles+east+of+the+campus.+Photo+credit%3A+James+Schaap
Smoke from the Rye Fire settles over the Academic Center at Moorpark College. The fire originates from Sylmar, which is approximately 30 miles east of the campus. Photo credit: James Schaap

Smoke from the Rye Fire settles over the Academic Center at Moorpark College. The fire originates from Sylmar, which is approximately 30 miles east of the campus. Photo credit: James Schaap

Smoke from the Rye Fire settles over the Academic Center at Moorpark College. The fire originates from Sylmar, which is approximately 30 miles east of the campus. Photo credit: James Schaap

Eric Caldwell and Martin Bilbao

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The campus was closed early Tuesday and all day Wednesday as multiple fires have broken out in the Ventura County and San Fernando Valley areas.

If a fire threatens Moorpark College, the administration and campus police have protocols in place to evacuate students. These protocols are organized under the office of Silvia Barajas, Vice President of Business Services.

“We’re in close coordination with the emergency operations center, and they are providing regular updates on the situation,” said Barajas.

Strong, dry winds have created especially dangerous conditions that have driven these fires to destroy and threaten buildings and homes in the surrounding region. The fires have caused closures at all three campuses in the district and impacted some students on the eve of finals week.

In an email to faculty, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Julius Sokenu called on faculty to be considerate of student’s situations and needs during the last two weeks of the semester.

“Faculty in consultation with chairs and deans will make decisions on how to address the last tests and assignments that were due this week,” wrote Sokenu in his email to faculty. “We also need to be responsive to students who may not be able to complete these tests and assignments as they have been evacuated or without the emotional energy to do so right now.”

In Ventura Country, the Thomas fire has caused the closure of Ventura College and Oxnard College. The Oxnard campus is being used to house evacuees from and around Ventura College.

The Thomas fire started overnight Tuesday and was followed by the Creek fire in Sylmar which started Tuesday morning. A third fire, the Rye fire, started in Santa Clarita Tuesday morning as well.

The Rye fire which was threatening to spread to Simi Valley was held at Piru by Fire resources overnight Wednesday, according to an email from Barajas. If current conditions hold, the fire should not reach Simi Valley and Moorpark.

On Tuesday, all departments on campus were still open, but at least thirteen classes across campus were cancelled that day as a result of the Creek and Thomas fires blazing through parts of Ventura and Los Angeles counties. As the day continued, smoke began to enter classrooms in the afternoon.

An alert notified students that the campus would close early that day at 4:00 p.m. The cancellation was due to poor air quality and to allow student, faculty and staff to manage the impact of the fires. A following alert was sent later that night, announcing that the campus would be closed Wednesday, Dec. 6.

Chancellor Greg Gillespie is meeting with the presidents of all three colleges today, Dec. 6, to make decisions about necessary campus closures for the following days, according to an email sent out by Sokenu.

Professors of Cultural Anthropology Ashley Vaughan, and Vladimir Kalugin, Philosophy, among others affected by the brush fires, called off instruction on Tuesday, according to their faculty division offices.

When it comes to enacting safety protocols, administration prioritize the safety of the students first. Then they ensure that the campus is secure and continue to monitor any threats or situations concerning the college. The administration is advised by the VCCCD Police Department and the local emergency services.

Most activities on campus are being monitored closely. The Athletics Department had no plans to cancel any practices Tuesday morning.

“For us we are still practicing. I’m not sure what they are doing but I’ve just been in contact with them [coaches] less than thirty-five minutes ago and they know what we are doing and are going to make adjustments if necessary,” said Moorpark College’s Athletics Director Vance Manakas Tuesday morning.

Moorpark College is also in contact with Ventura College and Oxnard College. If either college needs to use facilities, Moorpark College is ready to share them.

“We’re okay [Moorpark College], we are just opening up our facilities for Ventura and Oxnard,” said Manakas . “I reached out to both athletic directors to just let them know that we can help out in any way we can.”

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A smoke plume sits heavy in the sky behind the EATM building. Local fires became more evident on campus throughout the day as the air filled with smoke. Photo credit: Dallas Vorburger

The campus is currently not under risk from the Thomas Fire in Ventura, the Rye Fire in Santa Clarita, and the Creek Fire in Sylmar but with continuing reports of fires spreading the only program to be on high-alert is EATM.

According to Zoo Operations Supervisor Michlyn Hines, the birds were crated and moved indoors due to poor air quality. By Wednesday, Dec. 6, most animals were evacuated from the Teaching Zoo to various locations. A few animals are remaining at the Zoo as that was the best option for them, according to an email from Sokenu.

Students such as Biochemistry major Emily Thiele, 19, have also been impacted by the fires which started late last night. Thiele woke up at 1 a.m. to her sister’s family coming into her room to spend the night.

“They didn’t have to evacuate, but they could see flames and their power was out so they’re staying with us,” said Thiele. “But we’re still worried about our other friends and family out there.”

Other students who are not directly affected by the fires can still feel the impact of the strong offshore winds and poor air quality on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

“It’s not too bad over here right now,” said Richard Balencourt, 22, undecided. “But when the wind does start to pick up and the smoke gets bad, you an always wear a mask or bandana around your face so you don’t breathe it in too much.”

*More updates will be provided if the status of the school changes*

Updates:

Dec. 6, 4:00 p.m.

Moorpark College will be open Thursday, Dec. 7. The Zoo will remain closed. The Rye fire is not expected to cause problems for the campus, according to a campus alert.

Dec. 6, 1:00 p.m.

Chancellor Greg Gillespie is meeting with the presidents of all three colleges today, to make decisions about necessary campus closures for the following days, according to an email to faculty by Vice President of Academic Affairs, Julius Sokenu.

In that email, Sokenu called on faculty to be considerate of students’ situations and needs during the last two weeks of the semester.

“Faculty in consultation with chairs and deans will make decisions on how to address the last tests and assignments that were due this week,” wrote Sokenu in his email to faculty. “We also need to be responsive to students who may not be able to complete these tests and assignments as they have been evacuated or without the emotional energy to do so right now.”

Most animals were evacuated from the Teaching Zoo to various locations. A few animals are remaining at the Zoo as that was the best option for them, according to the email from Sokenu.

The Rye fire which was threatening to spread to Simi Valley was held at Piru by Fire resources over night, according to a Wednesday morning email from Barajas. If current conditions hold, the fire should not reach Simi Valley and Moorpark.

Dec. 5, 9:00 p.m.

The campus will be closed Wednesday, Dec. 6. According to a campus alert message, the cancellation is due to poor air quality and to allow student, faculty and staff to manage the impact of the fires.

Furthermore, the Simi Valley area is now on alert. The Rye Fire in Santa Clarita has reached Piru and is moving toward Simi Valley. According to Barajas, if the fire spreads to Simi Valley, it could possibly spread to Moorpark. No evacuations are being ordered at this time.

Dec. 5, 3:12 p.m.

The campus is closing at 4:00 p.m. though it is not in imminent danger.

The Student Voice staff contributed to this report.

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