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Westmont College professors and students began sifting through the ashes yesterday as some coped with the loss of their homes and departments.

Classes were canceled until December 1 to give the campus time to recover from the November 13 fire that destroyed 20 percent of its buildings but injured no one. The fire destroyed three academic buildings, more than 30 dorm rooms, and 14 of the 41 college-owned faculty houses at the Christian liberal arts college in Santa Barbara, California.

Two married professors who were teaching a study-abroad program in Europe found out that their home had been destroyed by watching a CNN news feed. One psychology professor was only able to save the rats he was using for neuropsychology research after losing both his home and his department.

"This is clearly the most devastating natural disaster we've had on campus," college spokesman Scott Craig said. "Right now they're just finding pieces of pottery before giving up altogether and trying to move on."

Freshman Stacey Torigoe was on her way to saxophone quartet rehearsal when she and 800 other students were ushered into the gym to spend the night.

"We could see the flames in the trees and there were sparks all over the place," Torigoe said. "I was just in shock most of the night."

Because her dorm was damaged, Torigoe was only able to save her saxophone and her cell phone, but she decided, "Life goes on, even without stuff."

Although several professors lost academic work, the fire did not create a complete loss. Three buildings that were destroyed by the fire were slated to be demolished later as part of the college's earlier plan to build new buildings.

The college has not built a structure on its campus since 1970, but it broke ground last month ...

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November 2008

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