University offers support for students impacted by California fires

Emergency loans and micro-grants are available for emergency travel funds


(Will Katcher/Daily Collegian)

By Abigail Charpentier, News Editor

The wildfires currently devastating California have been some of the most ruinous and deadly in the state’s history; with the week-long Thanksgiving break approaching, the University of Massachusetts is offering a helping hand to students.

As of Nov. 15, Camp Fire in Butte County has burned 140,000 acres and destroyed 10,321 structures. Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties has burned 98,362 acres and destroyed 435 structures (with 57,000 in danger). Fifty-nine fatalities have been confirmed; both fires are still far from being contained.

On Tuesday, Nov. 13, Dean of Students Cara Appel-Silbaugh sent out emails to all students who have a permanent address in California offering support and services.

“Like much of the country, you are likely concerned about the fires ravaging the state of California,” one email read. “These fires have caused great damage and loss in local communities – possibly to your own home or those of friends and other family members.

“Given you are a student with a permanent address in California, I wanted to reach out to you to offer support in what could be a difficult time.”

According to Daniel J. Fitzgibbons, associate director of UMass News and Media Relations, a little more than 500 undergraduate and graduate students from California are enrolled.

“The dean’s office has emergency loans and micro-grants for funding in case students need emergency travel funds,” Fitzgibbons said. “The office can also be a liaison with faculty as needed for absences, incomplete grades or withdrawal.”

Students were also encouraged to utilize the Center for Counseling & Psychological Health resources, including online resourcesworkshopsgroups and “Let’s Talk,” which are informal drop-in sessions.

One student who received an email from Dean Appel-Silbaugh was Victoria Hennon, a senior civil engineering major who is from Pasadena, California. While the current fires haven’t impacted her or her family – besides air quality – her community has been impacted in previous years.

“When I was in middle school…there was a pretty big fire near me –  and I remember seeing the flames on the ridge of mountains from my house – and luckily it didn’t destroy that many homes, but we missed school for a couple of days because the air quality was really bad,” Hennon said.

Hennon also has friends affected by wildfires. One of her friends lost her home last year to a fire, and “ironically, when the fires started in Malibu this year, they just started to rebuild their house that burned down last year.”

The University’s support was a big surprise to Hennon, as they had not reached out in past years, such as during last year’s destructive wildfires, but “it was nice getting this email this year.”

Abigail Charpentier can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abigailcharp.