San Marcos,
08:13 AM

Wildfires Force Campus Closure

By Margaret Chantung, Christine Vaughan and Katie Chappell

On Wednesday, May 14 at 3:45 p.m., CSUSM evacuated the campus as wildfires broke out in the hills south of the University. The Cocos Fire, which burned nearly 2,000 acres and destroyed 40 structures in the communities around CSUSM, led to a five-day campus closure, cancellation of final exams and postponement of Commencement Ceremonies.

While the fires came dangerously close to campus buildings, no structures were burned.

The University reopened on Tuesday, May 20 with normal business operations. CSUSM’s four Commencement Ceremonies have been rescheduled for Saturday, May 24 and Sunday, May 25.

Final Exams Cancelled
The wildfires broke out in the middle of CSUSM’s Final Exam week. While the majority of exams had been held earlier in the week, those scheduled after the campus evacuation were cancelled.

“We are convinced that it is unreasonable to ask students to make up final exams in light of the uncertain circumstances,” said President Karen Haynes and Provost Graham Oberem in a communication to students, faculty and staff on Thursday, May 15.

Instructors have been asked to post grades using their discretion to assign final grades. If a faculty member is unable to assign a grade, the registrar's office will administratively assign an “Incomplete” for the class until the faculty member is able to provide the final grade.

Commencement Rescheduled
On Thursday, May 15, President Haynes announced that commencement, which was previously scheduled for May 16 and 17, would be rescheduled for Saturday, May 24 and Sunday, May 25. 

“The decision to cancel this weekend’s Commencement Ceremonies was a difficult one,” said Haynes in the announcement. “Thank you for your continued understanding as we monitor the broad-reaching impact of the wildfires on the campus and our surrounding region over the coming days.”

CSUSM will hold its four ceremonies on Mangrum Track and Field on the following dates and times:

Saturday, May 24, 2014
College of Business Administration, 10:30 a.m.
College of Education, Health and Human Services, 4:30 p.m.

Sunday, May 25, 2014
College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences, 9:30 a.m.
College of Science and Mathematics, 3:00 p.m.

To help address questions from graduates and guests related to the rescheduling of commencement, a Frequently Asked Questions page has been posted online.

Minimal Damage to Campus Structures
Damage to CSUSM’s 304-acre campus was minimal. While flames came precariously close to the University’s Central Plant and burned chaparral along the campus’ south perimeter, CSUSM’s only physical damages were related to smoke, a brief power outage and a ruptured coil that caused flooding in three rooms in Academic Hall.

After the fires surrounding campus were contained, Facilities and Risk Management and Safety staff assessed the air quality and safety of campus buildings and student housing, clearing the University to reopen on Tuesday, May 20.

CSUSM Serves as Command and Resource Center
From Wednesday through Sunday, The Clarke Field House was transformed into a comfort station for firefighters, providing shower facilities and a sleeping area with 25 cots from the American Red Cross. Food and drinks were donated by CSUSM and the Ralph’s Grocery Company located across from campus.

CSUSM also became the county’s official Incident Command Post for the Cocos Fire on Thursday, May 15, serving as a staging area for first responders.

Thank You to First Responders
Over 800 firefighters and police officers worked tirelessly to contain the Cocos Fire and protect the communities surrounding CSUSM. The Cocos Fire was one of nine wildfires to erupt throughout San Diego County during the week of May 12.

“We are especially grateful for the eight military Sea Hawk helicopters and the Cal Fire DC 10 Air Tank that flew over our hills making drops of flame retardant and water, and to the firefighters and police from so many other districts who came together to fight these fires,” said President Haynes. “Their efforts ensured the safety of our campus and saved so many homes and businesses in our surrounding community.”