When Loyola men’s volleyball head coach Mark Hulse was a student-athlete at Pepperdine University from 2008-09, dealing with wildfires was “part of life.” Now, as his alma mater prepared to defend itself from the flames yet again, he watched the situation unfold from afar.
Two fires — Woolsey Fire and Camp Fire — raged in California from Nov. 8-26. The Woolsey Fire approached Pepperdine in Malibu, causing students and staff to shelter in place, according to the Washington Post. Classes were cancelled Nov. 19-20, which extended the university’s Thanksgiving break by two days and allowed students to get out of harm’s way sooner.
“As best I can, I’ve been keeping up with [the fires],” Hulse said. “The fires this time around are pretty significant, but it’s part of life up there. A lot of people build houses where you’re, frankly, not supposed to build them, so it’s kind of part of the deal.”
Hulse, a native to northern suburb Evanston, started his collegiate volleyball career at Rutgers-Newark University in 2006. After the 2007 season, he transferred to Pepperdine and during his junior year, saw the impact the fires had.
In fall 2007 — shortly after Hulse arrived in Malibu — Pepperdine evacuated for a fire that broke out in Southern California. The university lost power, but no buildings sustained damage. Hulse said while his part of the Midwest gets “snow and the occasional tornado warning,” fires were a whole new ballgame.
“My first year there, within a handful of weeks, it was something real similar: pretty bad fires that weren’t quite in the same spot, but in the same spot,” Hulse said. “We probably had a dozen people living in our little two-bedroom apartment because a lot of our friends had to evacuate and it was pretty tricky … the community was resilient, in that way in that many of them have seen it, but obviously it’s pretty close to home.”
Hulse said when he played at Pepperdine, he and his teammates used to help their coach, Marv Dunphy, clear brush away from his house to avoid the fires. Dunphy still lives in the area and Hulse said he’s kept in contact with him; his house is unharmed.
“Our coach, the guy I played for, who’s now retired … his house is up in the hills,” Hulse said. “He was up there clearing brush. He’s alright. He was kind of incommunicado for a while, so everyone’s checking up … he stayed with the house with a chainsaw tearing down as much brush as he could to try to protect the house.”
Although he’s “not a huge social media guy,” Hulse said he’s also kept in touch with friends through Pepperdine’s men’s and women’s volleyball team coaching staffs. He said while they haven’t talked much since the fires ignited, a simple response saying they’re alright has been enough to comfort him.
Last year, Loyola traveled to Pepperdine and swept the Waves 3-0. Hulse said that’s one of only a couple times he’s been back to campus and although things are different now compared to his time there, he said he’ll always value the experience of living in Malibu.
“The fires are, I guess, a part of it, but mostly it’s living two minutes away from the beach and Tom Cruise is up the street,” Hulse said. “They do things pretty differently than we do things at Loyola … but, man, it’s a pretty cool place to spend a few years when you’re 20 years old. It was a neat experience, no doubt.”
The Woolsey Fire was fully contained, according to the Los Angeles Times. Pepperdine is scheduled to travel to Gentile Arena Jan. 18 for a match — with no predicted wildfires in sight.