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College students still feeling effects of Thomas Fire

A burned hillside behind Wall Street in Ventura. The Thomas Fire burned into dense residential neighborhoods around downtown. Emily Guerin/KPCC

The Thomas Fire is named after Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, where the fire began near campus. The 370 students who live in the dorms were some of the first whose routines would be turned upside down after the fire forced them to evacuate.

“We had just started the last week of regular classes and then it would have been followed by a week of final exams,” said campus spokeswoman Anne Forsyth.

They’ll have to take those tests when classes start in a couple of weeks. The college is opening the dorms four days earlier than usual to let students settle in and study.

“The exams are being somewhat modified, the faculty members are taking into account all that’s gone on,” said campus spokeswoman Anne Forsyth.

Thomas Aquinas College is one of several colleges and universities that are taking steps to help students affected by the Thomas Fire. The fire also led U.C. Santa Barbara to postpone final to the week of January 8.

The buildings at these and other colleges didn’t burn, but several had to evacuate students as the semester was winding down.

“Well, first of all, my house burned down,” said David Keebler, the president of Ventura College.

He didn’t know how many of his campus’s 13,000 students lost their homes or were evacuated by the fires.

All of them lost the last two weeks of their semester, so faculty were allowed to assess how to grade students given the disaster that unfolded around them.

“Certainly they could give them incompletes, but if there’s a way not to do that, we’d prefer it,” Keebler said.

The college’s foundation has been giving out $250 in cash for students who need financial help. He expects enrollment to be down on January 8 when classes resume. Students won’t attend school to take care of fire related damage, he said, and the fire will create reconstruction jobs that will lead some students to put their college education on pause.

He said he’s looking forward to the new semester because it’ll help him and others as they try to return to normal.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said 307 students live in the dorms at Thomas Aquinas College. KPCC regrets the error.