Island student in Calif. fire zone

Pepperdine freshman stranded by wildfires

By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

Though left with no money and only the clothes on her back, an Island resident in her freshman year at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., is counting her blessings as fires rage through the nearby desert canyons.

Alyssa Toomey, who graduated from Mercer Island High School last June, said it might be a blessing in disguise she and her three friends weren’t allowed back on the Malibu campus last Sunday.

Classes were cancelled Monday and Tuesday after the school was locked down Sunday as the fire approached the campus. Brush fires fueled by hot, dry weather and high winds in southern California have caused the evacuation of thousands of people.

“I wasn’t really that scared because there are so many people at Pepperdine looking out for you. I think I would have been more scared if I saw the pictures of what was happening. Since the power was out, there was no TV and I didn’t realize the extent of the fires.

“I never saw the actual fire, but our [dorm] suite reeked of smoke. Later, I saw some of the pictures,” Toomey said. “The sky was just orange. You could see the fire and the smoke; everybody had on gas masks.”

Students were asked to gather in the gym and fieldhouse by school officials on Sunday morning as the fire moved closer. They had packed earlier in the day, anticipating having to leave. Around 2 p.m. students were allowed back to their rooms. That’s when Toomey and three friends decided to go into town to get some food. Local police, monitoring roads in the area, did not allow the girls back on campus.

“It was miserable,” Toomey said. “My phone had died. I had no money and no way to get a hold of anybody. I also lost my wallet. I must have dropped it while we were getting moved around.”

The girls also left behind their extra clothes, anticipating they would be allowed back onto campus.

“My bag is sitting in my room ready to go,” Toomey said. “We were planning on coming back to campus but were ready to evacuate.”

The students stayed at the home of one of the girl’s parents in nearby Westlake.

Alyssa’s mother, Lori, said she talked to her daughter and hopes she will gain from the experience.

“I think she learned a little lesson,” Lori Toomey said. “It’s one of those things like when we have an earthquake here. You don’t expect it.”

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