MALIBU (CBSLA) – As flames devoured homes and forced Malibu residents to evacuate, Pepperdine University’s decision to shelter in place raised concerns Saturday among some students and parents.
Raging fires have destroyed at least 150 houses and 39,000 acres with zero containment, leading to the evacuation of more than 250,000 people throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Despite orders to evacuate and flames near campus, the university told students to hunker down instead of leaving.
One student’s parent told CBS2 that her son was forced to leave campus on foot after his car was allegedly blocked in. However, the university said students who wanted to leave were allowed. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed students were not forced to stay.
CBS2 was met with resistance by the university as a staff member said Joy Benedict and our crew were not allowed on campus.
“Get out,” the unidentified staff member said.
Parents have sent messages to CBS2 stating their children were not allowed to leave, despite wanting to do so.
“My daughter is telling me that they are being held in the Cafeteria, not allowed to leave, while the fires approaches and the rest of Malibu is evacuating,” one parent said in an email.
A Pepperdine student who slept in the school’s cafeteria Friday night said students were strongly advised to stay on campus but weren’t required.
“We were definitely not held against our will. We were encouraged with great intent to stay here, because we were assured Pepperdine is the safest place to be right now and that leaving would not be the wisest decision. However, they were not forcing us to stay here” Hana Adams said.
University President Andrew K. Benton addressed the school Friday night.
“I’m very irritated that fire did not anticipate this, did not get assets here, did not realize we were going to have 3,500 people on this campus,” he said, “Now they’ve frightened some of your brothers and sisters out of the roadways and I don’t know where they are, and I’m just fit to be tied. So I would urge you continue to stay here. There are too many of you, I thought about moving everyone into one facility, but there are too many of you and we’re kind of bedded down. Stay here, you’re safe here.”
While the fire burning on a hillside near the university has been extinguished, the move to not evacuate drew concern from some residents as fire resources – including air drops – responded to protect those on campus, leaving some nearby houses continuing to burn.
The university tweeted several updates overnight Friday.
The shelter-in-place order was lifted Saturday morning, and classes and events were canceled for the day.