Second-year Diana Celebrado was hanging out with her roommates Tuesday night, when they heard someone scream, “Fire!” from outside their apartment window. 

“We started panicking and then the alarms started going off,” Celebrado said. “So we grabbed our stuff and evacuated.”

At roughly 11 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 8, a small wildfire in the woods behind Colleges Nine and Ten prompted an immediate evacuation of the surrounding residential buildings. The six-foot tall flames burned about 30 x 50 square feet, roughly one-third of a basketball court, and started just under a quarter of a mile north of the nearby dorms and classrooms. 

Celebrado was in the first wave of evacuations as a resident from the apartments, followed soon after by students in the dorms. According to Campus Fire Marshal and Director of Emergency Services, Nicholas Otis, the manual fire alarm was pulled at the College Nine and Ten apartments by a student who had initially noticed the fire and called 911. 

Otis said that Santa Cruz City Fire arrived on the scene immediately and extinguished the fire in just under eight minutes.

“When I talked to the response crew, there was no initial immediate danger to the campus,” Otis said. “There wasn’t really a lot of shaded fuel in that area, so the likelihood of the fire escalating quickly was very slim. But any notification and response as quickly as possible is always the best approach for these sorts of things.”

While the fire didn’t end up posing a threat to the nearby campus buildings, the near-midnight evacuations were alarming to many residents. The apartments are adjacent to the woods where the blaze began, so many were able to see its glow. For students in the dorms a little farther away, the reason for having to evacuate was not as clear. 

Over at the College Nine dorms, Zoe Alamillo and her roommates saw the photos of the fire on the college’s Discord server as sirens screamed past their windows. At that point, the second-years started to hear the RA’s yelling at residents to begin evacuating.

“None of the alarms were going off in our buildings. So besides the fact that they were telling us to get out there was no other indication that there was some reason to be concerned,” Alamillo said. “Confusion would be an understatement.”

Students evacuated to the College Nine and Ten meadows before being told it was safe to return to their dorms. Photo courtesy of Alex Colloredo-Mansfeld.

She explained that even some of her friends in the dorms had no idea what was going on until later. The only reason Alamillo knew about the fire was thanks to her roommate’s quick investigation on Discord and some intel from friends in the apartments. 

Students congregated at the Nine and Ten meadow for less than an hour, until they were allowed to return back to their rooms. 

“We don’t have any indication as to [the fires’] cause at this time and the investigation will most likely conclude in the next few days,” Fire Marshal Otis said.

Otis said that students are not advised to start any sort of fires in the woods. He urges students to stay vigilant, especially if this rainy season stays dry.

“Fire safety is a shared responsibility amongst all of us, shared between students, staff and faculty,” Otis said. “The reality is, there’s no longer a fire season, it’s kind of just an endless loop at this point with some of the drier conditions […] This is a perfect example of how quickly things can get out of hand.”

To report any fires or campus emergencies, call 9-1-1. To learn more about campus fire prevention, visit the Office of Emergency Services website here