By Andrew Kim
Pacific Union College experienced an unfortunate tragedy early on in the school year as wildfires, spanning from Clear Lake to Napa, ravaged the surrounding area. The fires began on the eve of Oct. 8. PUC canceled classes from Oct. 10 through Oct. 17, and encouraged students to travel home to their families to keep them safe from the wildfires. Classes resumed on Wednesday, Oct. 18, while first responders continued to contain the wildfires and the destruction left behind.
Among the first responders who took action to contain the wildfires were several PUC students, staff and faculty members who volunteer at the Angwin Volunteer Fire Department, including J.R. Rogers. Rogers first joined the Angwin Volunteer Fire Department in January 2004, and in 2016, he took over as chief of the program. We, the Campus Chronicle, thought we would ask him some questions so that he could offer his first-hand experience about the wildfires.
What was you first reaction when you heard about the fires down the mountain, realizing that it could possibly reach Angwin?
“Initially, we were dispatched to send any and all units we had down to the Atlas Fire in the Soda Canyon area. At that time, there was no concern for Angwin. The Atlas Fire was headed toward the lake, and the Tubbs Fire was headed toward Santa Rosa. It wasn’t until probably mid to late Monday that we started to realize that the fires were starting to maneuver themselves toward Angwin and that it was starting to do what two fires in the past, Atlas in 1981 and Hanley in 1964, had done. At that point we started to consult with the college and keep a very close eye on the fires. We also started working up tentative plans on what would need to be done if either of them made it to town. We had preliminary evacuation routes set dependent on which fire reached us and trigger points as to when we’d do an advisory and then mandatory evacuation.”
Have you ever experienced anything like what Angwin had to endure, since the second week of October, in nearly evacuating the campus?
“Yes. Two years ago, we had the Valley Fire that started in Lake County and worked its way to Napa County. That fire actually got a lot closer to the outer limits of Angwin on the Pope Valley side than either of the two fires this year did. We did not send any resources to that fire as it was well established in another county before it got to us, but it did ultimately get closer. We had some advisory evacuations on the back side of the mountain and had plans for additional evacuations if it got any closer than it did.”
How many fire fighters and first responders were present in battling against the fires?
“Thousands. I don’t really have a good number. To be frank, to have this many “campaign” wildland fires within such a short distance of each other is unprecedented. Usually it’s just one here or there but to have what ended up being four significantly large ones is just unheard of. For Angwin, we had four units deployed for the first five days with 14 personnel. After day five, one was returned and the remaining three have gone on for the full 14 days. As of this moment, one is returning home and the remaining two will likely come home Monday. In addition to that, we have approximately six to 10 personnel that staffed our station, which is normally not staffed. Once we knew that it wasn’t coming to town we down-staffed the station and went back to our normal operating procedures here on the hill.”
What has been the most valuable thing you have taken away from the fire concerns?
“I think the biggest thing that I really relearned was that the Angwin community is an amazing and strong supporter. All the local community has supported us in many ways and the connection with the college administration is even better than ever before. We have a really good working relationship and I’m proud of the college and incredibly proud of the fire department and our crews.”
What message would you give to those either affected by the fire concerns?
“For those affected we are very sorry for your loss. Losing your belongings is one of the most devastating tragedies and our thoughts and prayers are with you.”
How and where can individuals here at PUC give donations and continue to support the fire victims affected?
“There are a number of different places out there that are collecting donations. Facebook, Apple and many others. Just Google it and you’ll find it. If there is a want to give to the local fire department, we are a non-profit and it can be done via mail or at www.angwinfire.com/donate."