YUBA CITY, California — About a month after the devastating Camp Fire forced tens of thousands of Butte County residents out of their homes and schools, area students are finally returning to school — or at least to what’s left.
Alison Tomasini, a student at Achieve Charter High School, lost both her home and her school in the fires, which swept through the places she felt most secure, leaving behind only ash and memories.
“School was like my second home,” said Tomasini, a ninth-grader. “Everyone got along with each other; there was really no fighting or bullying or drama.”
The fire, which was the deadliest and most destructive in California history, damaged or destroyed 14 schools and displaced 31,670 students, according to the Butte County Office of Education. But getting students back in the classroom, no matter the location, has been a top priority for school officials. Alison, for example, will now attend classes at Living Hope Fellowship, a church she’d never been to, in Chico.
The Tomasini home in Paradise, CA after the Camp Fire . (Ani Ucar/VICE News)
“Right now, the focus is getting our kids together and having them hang out, play, laugh, and be with their teachers,” said Ashley Pruett, one of Tomasini’s teachers. While there is some concern over losing time on the core curriculum, the consensus is that it’s more important to provide a healing space for the kids in this sensitive time, she said.
Burned out car in Paradise, CA. (Ani Ucar/VICE News)
“If you need to cry, we’ll have places that it’s OK for you to cry,” said Achieve Charter High School Principal Kelli Gordon, addressing students on their first day back. “If you need to talk to somebody, we’re going to have somebody that you can talk to. If you need to go to class and just feel like a kid again, you can go to class and feel like a kid again.”
Kids’ tricycles left in the rubble of a house in Paradise, CA. (Ani Ucar/VICE News)
Cover image: Achieve Charter High School in Paradise, California after the Camp Fire. (Ani Ucar/VICE News)
This segment originally aired December 4, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.