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Research Building Burns Down in Woolsey Fire

The structure was the cornerstone of a UCLA conservation science center.

Nov 16, 2018
Kerry Grens

ABOVE: The remains of a building at the UCLA La Kretz Center Field Station that burned in the Woolsey fire
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

The Woolsey Fire in southern California has incinerated a conservation science building at a University of California, Los Angeles, field station in Malibu. The structure was one of two facilities at the site; the other one, which just opened its doors six weeks ago, was unharmed.

“Our main building was the cornerstone of the field station, and it’s totally gone,” Brad Shaffer, director of the UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science and a professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, says in a press release. “We still have to get up there to assess the damage, but the new building, about 20 feet away, looks unscathed. So the good news is that it’s not all lost.”

The building did not house any ongoing research projects, but the burning of the surrounding habitat affects surveys and field experiments. “There are huge long-term research projects on animal population dynamics and plant populations,” Shaffer says. “Whether that will destroy the research, or simply push it in a different direction, I’m not sure.”

See “College Campuses Close as Wildfires Ravage California

The Woolsey Fire has burned nearly 100,000 acres. It is now 62 percent contained, and should be under control by Monday, according to NBC4.

Road closures have prohibited access to the field station in Malibu. UCLA knows of the building’s destruction from photos provided by the National Park Service, which owns the site.

Road closures also made Pepperdine University’s campus in Malibu inaccessible for nearly a week. There, faculty, staff, and students had been sheltering in place since last Friday, but some faculty members have begun to return as roads are cleared, according to Jay Brewster, a biology professor at Pepperdine. Although some field equipment was damaged in the fire, the buildings are intact.

In northern California, where the Camp Fire has claimed the lives of scores of people and left loved ones searching for hundreds more who are missing, California State University (CSU), Chico, has kept its campus closed through today (November 16) and canceled classes until after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Butte College in Oroville closed its campus until November 25. The school has served as a staging area for law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency responders. Sandrine Matiasek, an environmental geochemist at CSU Chico, says the firefighters fought flames on the Butte College campus on the first night of the fire last Thursday (November 8). In doing so, they spared her field site on Butte’s property. It’s a strip of land called a bioswale that treats storm runoff from a parking lot before it enters a creek. “They really, truly saved the campus,” she says.

One of Matiasek’s graduate students lost his home in Paradise to the Camp Fire, along with soil sampling equipment he had brought there to prepare it for deployment in the field. 

“The hardest part as faculty is waiting to hear back from students and make sure they’re ok,” Matiasek says. “We know some students live in Paradise and we’re still waiting to hear back.” The heartwarming part, she adds, is that the community has come together to raise funds to support those who have lost their homes.

The Camp Fire continues to burn, sending smoke into the air at far distances. Because of poor air quality, the University of California closed both its Davis and Sacramento campuses again today (November 16). Father away in the Bay Area, Cal State East Bay closed its campuses in Hayward, Concord, and Oakland, while the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, Santa Clara University, San Jose State, and Foothill College canceled classes today.

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