Vail Christian grads escape California wildfire |

Vail Christian grads escape California wildfire

Nathan Rodriguez
Vail, CO Colorado
AP PhotoThe ruins of Bauder Hall on the campus of Westmont College is seen Friday morning.

With wildfires continuing to ravage the state of California, two former Vail, Colorado residents found themselves in the middle of the inferno last Thursday in Montecito.

Jake Blair graduated from Vail Christian High School in 2006, and was returning from doing laundry around 6 p.m. when he saw flames on a hillside along Highway 101.

“It looked pretty small and I just figured it was a house. It was dark, so I didn’t know what it was,” he said. “So I took a route through the hills to Montecito, and as I came around the turn, the whole hillside was in flames.”

Blair sped up the hill behind the Westmont College campus as a flood of cars lined up to escape the blaze.

“It felt like Dante’s Peak. I drove up to the school when everyone was being evacuated, and people were yelling,” he said.

He grabbed a pair of shoes, a few items of clothing and his computer from his dorm, but didn’t follow the hundreds of other students who were led to the fireproof gymnasium on campus.

Instead he visited friends who lived in town and were close to the fire. When he arrived, they were in their backyard fighting off flames with a garden hose.

Eventually, Blair and about 20 of his friends crashed at his parents’ home in Santa Barbara for the night, out of harms way.

“The whole time I was a pretty good distance away from the fire, but could see the glow from the smoke,” he said. “It felt absolutely apocalyptic. It was one of the weirdest things in the world.”

Bradie Beagley is another graduate of Vail Christian High School who is an RA at Clark Hall, the residence hall that sustained the most damage from the fire. She was with her boyfriend when she got a phone call with an alarm ringing in the background.

“We looked up on the hill and saw the fire directly above Westmont. As we stood there for no more than three minutes figuring out what to do, the fire had at least tripled in size,” she said. “The rest of my night consisted of calling all the women in my section, figuring out where they were if they weren’t in the gym and making sure they had a place to stay if they weren’t on campus.”

She spent the night in a nearby home awaiting news with more than a dozen friends crowding the floors, couches and beds.

Blair, who was also trading texts, e-mails and phone calls with friends, said accurate reports were at a premium.

“Most of the night I was emailing friends who were studying abroad in Australia, Spain and Israel,” he said. “We kept hearing different stories about which buildings were gone, and we also kept hearing about how they could see the fire from the gym, after talking to some of my friends who stayed there.”

Aside from an uncomfortable and nerve-wracking night, Blair, Beagley and the rest of the student body at Westmont College escaped uninjured.

In surveying the damage, about 15 percent of the college was lost, including at least eight buildings and 15 faculty homes on the outskirts of campus.

“Part of the dorms burned up which is a bummer for sure, as well as a couple of other buildings,” Blair said. “The hardest part is that the teachers’ homes burnt down because we’re a small school and we’re all pretty close, so we know most of the teachers. Many of the teachers were abroad, so they didn’t recover anything. Some people lost their cats as well, so it’s tough.”

College officials said classes will resume Dec. 1, and students have spent the last few days collecting personal belongings from their rooms.

Beagley said in spite of the extensive damage to Clark Hall and their resident directors’ home that burnt to the ground, she felt fortunate.

“It’s incredible to walk on campus expecting ashes and see how much of our beautiful campus remains,” she said. “It’s humbling seeing God’s hand of protection in the damage.”

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