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Westmont Structures Lost, Students Safe

236 Reportedly Remain in Fireproof Campus Gym


As of approximately 9:30 a.m., 14 homes of Westmont College faculty (known as Las Barrancas) have been confirmed to be burned completely, with another two likely to be severely damaged. According to a current Westmont student who lives at off-campus student housing, known as the Ocean View Apartments on Ocean View Avenue on the Eastside, students were still in the campus’s Murchison Gym waiting to be transported off campus. Only a select number of people are being allowed up Cold Spring Road, the only way to get onto campus, to collect the people who are still there.

Ryan Stong, a first-year student at Westmont who lives in the Clark Q dorm, reported that his specific dorm had not been burned although Clark S and Clark’s Resident Director Mark McCormick’s home were completely burned. As of about 10:15 a.m., Stong was still in the gym with about 20-25 other people who were still waiting to be transported off campus. A Huntington Beach native, Stong was waiting for his father who was in process of getting up the hill to retrieve him.

On-campus students and faculty were evacuated to the gym soon after the fire broke out at 5:50 p.m. Thursday night. Stong described the general mood as “mixed,” saying some students were “terrified” while others were cracking jokes and praying, knowing there was nothing they could do at that point. Resident directors, resident advisers, and the faculty on hand were giving information to students as they learned of it; people were singing worship music and set up some screens so that students could watch movies (The Incredibles and Elf). Campus Pastor Ben Patterson was not in the gym, although President Gayle Beebe did come to the gym briefly to check in with students and faculty. Although Stong was unsure of the status of Beebe’s home, an off-campus student said the president’s house was not burned.

According to Stong, smoke came into the gym shortly after everyone gathered there and reported that a few people experienced asthma attacks but were treated at the makeshift medical station in the gym. The air conditioning system in the gym could not be used because it circulates air from outside, so Stong said the air was incredibly stagnant and that the gym was very warm all night. Food, cots, and blankets were assembled by several volunteers who quickly went to Emerson, on-campus dorms located above Clark and Page (the two first-year dorms) that are designated for upperclassmen, to gather what supplies they could.

When the fire first broke out, Stong was in the college’s cafeteria, known as the DC, getting dinner. “For a lot of us, we were at the DC, and we looked up on the hill and it was on fire,” Stong said. “They told us to go, so we went.”

According to Westmont’s Web site, there were no active fires as of 8 a.m. this morning and “everyone is safe.” The gym is still holding 326 students.

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