From Fire Storm to Storming the Field

Dave Wolf, Westmont head men’s soccer coach, has already begun creating new memories after losing his home in the Tea Fire. Less than four days after his family’s home in the Las Barrancas neighborhood was reduced to ashes, Wolf led the Warriors to a stunning 2-0 upset victory over #5 Azusa Pacific Nov. 17 to capture the Golden State Athletic Conference Men’s Soccer Championship.

Wolf was home alone when the fire began as a glow at the Tea Garden arches. He called his wife, Jill, who was with their children and asked what she wanted him to take when he evacuated their home. He grabbed some important documents and stuffed animals for his children, but didn’t have time to retrieve the family’s home movies before retreating to the home of Johan Frisell, assistant men’s soccer coach.

After the fire destroyed eight structures on the Westmont campus and 15 faculty homes, officials at Azusa Pacific agreed to postpone Saturday’s championship game until the following Monday. Fire officials escorted Wolf and his players onto the closed campus Saturday so the athletes could gather their uniforms and cleats, which remained in locked residence halls.

More than 600 Westmont students and alumni made the trek to Azusa to support the team at the game on Monday. President Gayle D. Beebe and Read Sheard, vice president for information technology, drove down as well. “I wanted to see our students,” said Beebe, whose home was spared on La Paz Road. “They played their hearts out for Dave. It was one of the most epic sports events I have ever been a part of. It was a great distraction for an hour and a half.”

Following the game, hundreds of Westmont students stormed the field, congratulating the players by creating a human tunnel with their arms, similar to an AYSO soccer game. Westmont has earned an automatic berth in the NAIA National Championship Tournament and will host Holy Names University at an undetermined location Saturday, Nov. 22.

Practice Makes Perfect

Students hastily rose from dinner in the dining commons, leaving plates of untouched food, when they received an electronic emergency alert telling them to evacuate to the gym. All students, faculty and staff got the notification. This was nothing new for Westmont students who practice these types of drills several times a year. But this was the real thing as the Tea Fire raced onto campus. About 800 Westmont students, including several dozen high school seniors on campus for Preview Days, checked in at the gym, where an emergency shelter was being established. The college’s county-approved fire plan specifies that students shelter in place at the cinder-block gym as opposed to clogging the narrow, windy Montecito roads with cars and buses. The emergency notice went out at 6:04 pm; by 6:15 pm all the students were in the gym and accounted for. This quick action prevented any deaths or injuries from the fast-moving fire.

The college’s emergency response team, made up of faculty and staff members, meets every month to rehearse emergency scenarios for various disasters. Troy Harris, Westmont director of risk management, and other staff are also actively involved with the Montecito Emergency Response & Recovery Action Group (MERRAG), a network of trained volunteers who work and/or live in the Montecito area. Members are prepared to respond to a community disaster during the critical first 72 hours following an event.