Around 11 a.m. on Tuesday, firefighters rushed to the scene of a fire on a Cal Poly hill. Those who hang around San Luis Obispo in the summer might not think this is anything unusual, since fires aren’t that uncommon on the Cal Poly hills. In the second week of summer school, the use of illegal fireworks set the hill of the Poly “P” aflame, though the fire remained only in that area.
But Tuesday’s fire blew too close to home. It rapidly spread from the hill behind the equine center to another hill and then to yet another hill – the last one being directly adjacent to Poly Canyon Village.
It was only at about 12:30 p.m. that the university sent any type of warning out to the students. University Housing notified all on-campus residents that “a small brush fire” was on campus. This small brush fire was more like tall flames that stopped students walking in their tracks. This “small brush fire” could be seen from most places on campus and if people weren’t gawking at the flames, they certainly noticed the large billows of smoke. Cal Poly students all over campus documented the scene with their cell phones and cameras (check out mustangdaily.net to see our reader-submitted photos) and informed their friends of what took place on campus.
In short, this did not appear to be any “small brush fire.” And students (only on-campus ones, mind you) were not informed until about an hour and a half after it started. They were told to contact a residence hall staff member should they have questions, but how much more would an R.A. know about the situation than any other student?
Think of the students who didn’t have a computer in Cerro Vista, or the students on campus who weren’t sent an e-mail – they would be clueless. After all, nearly 4,000 students live on campus; what about the 14,500 of us who don’t?
Not much later at 1:20 p.m. when the flames are still on the move, University Housing sent out another e-mail to these select students, which didn’t tell them much more than what they already knew. These students were told the University Housing staff was monitoring the situation (what the hell does that mean?) before the five-line e-mail ended with “please be mindful of your health and safety.”
It’s almost a little too reminiscent of the e-mail sent to students at Virginia Tech (an e-mail that was sent two hours after the first shooting) that ended with a simple “be cautious.” Granted, a fire and a shooting are two very different things, but the way in which our university went about informing students of the matter at hand really was not much more responsible.
The final e-mail students received came at 3:15 p.m. – almost two hours since the last update. The fire, though not as powerful as before, was still present, but this last e-mail also told students nothing new and yet again, contained vague information. Not only that, but in order to find information, they were told to call 756-NEWS, which told them which roads and parking lots were closed. How does this affect students living on campus already??
So many questions can be drawn from this incident. Why was it University Housing who took responsibility for sending these e-mails? Why were only on-campus residents informed? Are there not hundreds, if not thousands, of students who park on campus every day? Students who park in the H-12, H-14 or H-16 parking lots were just as at risk to have their property destroyed as residents in the Cerro Vista apartments. How hard is it for the University Police Department or the Office of Student Affairs to notify ALL students of the situation at hand?
Instead, many students were left in the dark as a giant mushroom cloud hovered above. But after all, it was just “a small brush fire.”