BARKHAMSTED -- A Connecticut woman landed back in New England today after fleeing the historic California wildfires.
Marissa Guilmain, an 18-year-old from Barkhamsted, began her freshman year at Pepperdine University in Malibu this fall. It seemed like the perfect choice: she thought the campus was beautiful, the school had the Christian values she was looking for, and she could study film in Southern California.
On Thursday morning, she called her mother, Karyn Guilmain, and told her that her college campus had gone into lockdown because of the Woolsey fire, which grew to more than 143 square miles with 20 percent containment as of Monday morning.
The estimate of destroyed structures was raised to 370, with only 15 percent of damage assessments completed. The death toll stood at two. The Woolsey fire is one of several fires currently tearing through the state of California.
"She called and said they were being evacuated to the cafeteria," Karyn said. "The panic kind of set in."
"The flames were spreading rapidly," said Marissa, who sent photos of the fire to her mother as she sheltered in place in the school's library. "Seeing flames that close to somewhere I live is really nerve-wracking."
Marissa said it was hard to breathe. Karyn could hear her coughing on their phone calls.
Karyn said her daughter had been doing really well, despite living so far away from home for the first time, until the flames crept closer to Pepperdine. Marissa even held it together hours before the fire took over the land surrounding her college campus, when a gunman stormed into a local bar and killed 12 people. According to the Associated Press, 16 Pepperdine students were at the bar that night and one was killed.
"The past week has been really intense for our community because of the shooting, as well," said Marissa.
Monday afternoon, Marissa flew from Los Angeles to Boston. Karyn picked her up from the airport and looked forward to the extra time she would get to spend with her daughter.
Needless to say, between the fire and the shooting, Marissa was grateful to be back in New England with her family.
"I'm just so happy to be home," she said.
Marissa's father, Timothy Guilmain, said he had faith that his daughter would make it home safe and sound. He was looking forward to seeing Marissa, too.
"I haven't seen her in three months," said Timothy. "Longest in her whole life."