Help for Santa Rosa

USFers race to respond to Northern California wildfires

By ED CARPENTER, USF NEWS Posted Mon, 10/23/2017 - 13:45

As wildfires swept across Northern California in early October, USFers went into emergency mode, doing what they could to secure the Santa Rosa Campus, sending text alerts, offering aid to fellow faculty and classmates who lost their homes, and helping the local community. 

Faculty, staff, and alumni from USF’s marriage and family therapy, nursing, and organization, leadership, and communication programs responded to the fires, which killed more than 40, destroyed an estimated 3,000 homes and buildings, did an estimated $1.2 billion in damage. 

“It’s difficult to say right now what’s been hardest. One thing for sure is that our sense of safety is totally compromised. We’re back in our apartment but our suitcases are still packed, just in case. We have a new normal, but we don’t even know what that looks like yet,” said Brittany Ratiani MA ’18, a marriage and family therapy student whose apartment complex was partially burned. She and her husband raced to their car at 2:30 a.m. Oct. 9 as the fire approached, braving 80-mile-per-hour wind gusts and falling embers the size of barbeque briquettes. They made it out safe and, luckily, their apartment survived — thanks to some neighbors who fought the flames with a garden hose.

USFers lost homes

The fires came within a couple minutes drive of the Santa Rosa Campus. Health concerns about lingering smoke closed the Santa Rosa Campus for a week and USF’s Hilltop Campus for a day. Events and athletic games had to be cancelled or rescheduled. At least three USFers lost their homes.

While it’s not unusual for the USF community to respond to emergencies (some traveled to Houston to help with the Hurricane Harvey recovery), the Northern California fires touched the university community in the most personal way possible, with nearly all the students, faculty, staff, and alumni in the Bay Area being affected to one degree or another.

Professors Daniela Domínguez, Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, Aaron Horn, Courtney MastersonLisa De La Rue, and Lou Felipe, and Santa Rosa Campus alumni Denise Mendoza ’17, Chelsea Fenton MA ’17, and Laura Pattullo MA ’17 were among those who led the local response.

In all, more than 30 USFers worked with first responders at Elsie Allan High, which was converted to a shelter. 

“We helped register families and triage any immediate needs as they arrived at the shelter. And we collected, sorted, and distributed medical supplies, toiletries, bedding, and easy-to-prepare meals,” Domínguez said.

Serving Santa Rosa

“What has been amazing is how strong, resilient, and competent our students have been. Especially since it's their community that's struggling,” Domínguez said.

The USF team’s quick response shows the university commitment to rolling up its sleeves to help the community, Domínguez said. It’s also been an important opportunity to learn firsthand about how to respond to a crisis, which is part of what her marriage and family counseling students are training to do professionally, she said.

In addition, the Santa Rosa Campus has opened up space for Cardinal Newman High School, after most of the school burned down, said Xavier Nazario, Santa Rosa Campus director.

“About 30 Cardinal Newman faculty and staff will be working remotely from our campus and launching an online campus for their 600 or so students,” Nazario said. “We have converted one of our classrooms to a faculty/staff headquarters, and we are partnering with them to set up phones, computers, and more.”

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