Q&A: As Thomas Fires spread to Santa Barbara, Zoë Bowlus, ’16, heads home early with finals postponed until January

(Photo used by permission of Bowlus)
The lagoon near the UC Santa Barbara campus. According to Zoë Bowlus, ’16, students are typically able to see the Pacific Ocean from there, but the smoke prevents them from seeing the ocean now.

Zoë Bowlus, ‘16, attends the University of California, Santa Barbara, which is about 25 miles east of the radius of the Thomas Fires in Santa Barbara County. In a Dec. 10 email to the UC Santa Barbara community, chancellor Henry Yang announced that due to the “uncertainty” accompanying the fires, final exams scheduled for the week of Dec. 11 have been pushed to the week of Jan. 8. He encouraged students “who wish to leave to do so.” Bowlus was one of the students who chose to evacuate.


Q: What’s it like outside?

A: It’s very ashy everywhere. It’s smoky. The sun usually looks bright red or orange. Pretty crazy.

Everything feels kind of apocalyptic. It’s really eerie.

I’ve looked at evacuation maps and know that the fire danger isn’t quite to Goleta, which is where we are – yet.

I haven’t seen actual fires or anything; we’re just getting the effects of the fires that are nearby.

It feels very strange outside – weird light, weird, smoky air filled with ash, a weird-looking sun. It all feels really strange.

And I have noticed it’s been getting worse over the past couple of days. It’s definitely gotten more intense.   

Q: Have any of your classes been affected?

A: Class was originally canceled on Thursday, and then they decided class would be canceled on Friday and then decided finals would be postponed until January.

I was supposed to have a regular stats exam – just a regular test, not a final – on Friday, (which) was originally postponed until this Wednesday but now has been postponed to January because it’s an in-person test.

Our philosophy teacher changed the format of (our) test so that it (will) be online this Tuesday. In the chancellor’s email it says that if teachers had made previous arrangements to have finals or any tests online, then those arrangements are not canceled. So I’ll still have that test on Tuesday.

I had a final paper in one of my Asian-American classes due this Friday, (and) the teacher told us that she believes it isn’t a good idea to wait until January to have us hand in our papers, so she just extended the deadline by a couple days. Now it’s due on Monday.

(Photo used by permission of Zoë Bowlus)
Ash-covered steps right outside the UC Santa Barbara dorms.

Q: How do you feel about finals being pushed back?

A: I have mixed feelings. Now that they’ve been canceled, it’s prompted me to go home. I would’ve stayed (here) because I felt like I wouldn’t be as effective or productive at home.

(If there were no fires), I would’ve stayed here and gotten through all the stuff even though most of it was going to be online.

I’m happy that I’m going to get out of this environment because I don’t feel like it’s very safe or healthy.

But at the same time, I’m kind of dreading dealing with the stats test I’ll have to take when I get back. I had already started studying because we didn’t find out that our finals were canceled until Sunday.

Q: How has the student body reacted to the fires?

A: Everybody’s wearing masks (or) bandanas over their mouths and noses.

I’m trying to stay inside as much as possible; I only go out to get food and come back.

Everyone’s pretty stressed about dealing with finals at the same time as trying to stay safe from the fires.

I haven’t talked to any of my friends from out of state about this; I’m kind of keeping to myself, staying inside my room.

People are kind of freaking out (and) justifiably so. They’re all trying to get on the road pretty fast, trying to figure out how to get out of here and get to safer ground.

I think I didn’t initially realize the severity of these fires, but I definitely do now.

Q: Has the faculty talked about the fires at all?

A: As I’ve learned more and the areas of evacuation have gotten closer and closer to us, the faculty has talked about the fire a lot, and because our assignments are contingent on the conditions, everyone’s working really hard to be accommodating and trying to find options that are the best for us, looking out for our best interests.

I heard a rumor that nothing has happened like this in 30 years, but I’m not sure if that’s true or not.

—By Chardonnay Needler 

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