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Westmont College uses Tea Fire experience in evacuation preparat - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Westmont College uses Tea Fire experience in evacuation preparations

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The Thomas Fire has forced mandatory evacuations for students, faculty and staff at Westmont College, but the school's President says this isn't the first time his campus has been threatened by a wildfire.

The Tea Fire back in 2008 damaged and burned several buildings on Westmont's campus.  So far, the campus has not been in the destructive path of the Thomas Fire, but it's close.

The Tea fire in 2008 was started by a bonfire and ripped through parts of Westmont's campus as 70 mile per hour winds picked up.  

"The night of the fire, it was so fast.  My wife and kids barely escaped from our home," Gayle Beebe, the President of Westmont College, was there when it happened.

"62 students lot their dorm rooms, 15 faculty lost their homes.  In the case of three of those faculty, they also lost their office on campus," Beebe said.

On Monday, thick smoke hovered over an empty campus that would usually be filled with the some 1,200 students finishing up finals week.

Officials with the school say the Tea Fire experience was used in preparing for evacuations of students on Sunday.  "We had about 300 students, maybe 450, who were still around.  So we told them to come to the gym, which is our emergency evacuation site," Beebe, explained.

Some students went home while others were evacuated to a nearby church before being placed in homes within the community.

Beebe said, "We're hoping and praying that fire crews are able to keep it north of all the inhabited areas including the college."

Students, faculty, and staff will not be returning to campus before the start of winter break.  Students have also worked out scheduling with their professors to complete finals outside of campus this week. 

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