Highland University opens doors to Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire evacuees, firefighters

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LAS VEGAS, N.M. — Since the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire began, many lives have been put on pause or turned upside down – including the students of Highland University.

KOB 4 spoke to university officials Monday about how they were able to provide shelter to evacuees as classes continued.

The end of this school year was unique for students at Highland University – a lot of classes were moved online and open dorm rooms were given to evacuees and first responders. Unfortunately, their graduation was postponed until further notice.

NMHU canceled several highly anticipated end-of-year events, including an athletics awards banquet. But the university was able to transform a number of those events into fire relief efforts, like donating all the banquet food to evacuees. 

They didn’t forget about their students, and mental health counseling was offered to everyone on campus, including students and faculty.

“It created a lot of anxiety in the middle of finals and wrapping up the school year, however, our students are incredibly resilient and it was a smooth process. Our deans worked closely with the faculty to help transition and give opportunities to them to end the classes online if possible,” said Denise Montoya, incident commander for NMHU Emergency Operations Command Team.

Now that the semester has ended, the university is already looking ahead and asking what should they do if this fire is still going when classes start back up again.

About 25% of the buildings at NMHU have been opened up to evacuees displaced by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire. They’re housing first responders from the Red Cross , New Mexico State Police, and firefighters. 

“We know we have to continue to balance an uncertain world and create certainty in any way possible, so we continue to resume with our summer schedule. Most classes are offered online however a lot of summer courses are offered in-person and we are ready to teach, and we are ready to continue on with our mission,” said Montoya. 

But the big concern they have is what if this fire lasts until the fall semester – while everyone is hoping and expecting that will not be the case – NMHU is putting together a plan of what buildings will house students and which ones will house evacuees and first responders.