Monday marked a return to school and some semblance of routine for thousands of children who lost their homes to a deadly wildfire in Northern California.
Schools in Butte County have been closed since Nov. 8, when the Camp Fire ignited and quickly swept through the towns of Paradise, Concow and Magalia in what would become the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century. At least 88 people were killed and dozens remain unaccounted for.
Officials at the Paradise Unified School District weren’t sure how many of their roughly 3,500 students would show up at makeshift schools that will temporarily replace the eight sites lost to the flames. Some families have left the state. Others are staying with friends or relatives across Northern California, too far to drive every day.
But nearly all the teachers are returning to provide a familiar and comfortable face to the children who are able to make it to class.
“It’s important that the kids are able to stay together and have some sort of normalcy in the crazy devastation that we’re having now,” said Jodi Seaholm, 40, whose third-grade daughter, Mallory, is about to turn 9.
Two neighboring school districts have allowed children from Paradise to take over available space. Kids who previously went to Paradise Elementary School will go to school in nearby Oroville, while children from Ponderosa Elementary School will be at a school in Durham.
Paradise High School survived but is inaccessible as the region remains evacuated.
The district doesn’t have space yet for intermediate and high school classrooms, so for the 13 days before the holiday break begins those students will learn through independent study. They’ll have access to online assignments and a drop-in center at the Chico mall where they can get help from teachers or see their classmates.
Searchers have stopped their methodical search for victims in scorched cars and neighborhoods, but they remain on call if people believe they find bone fragments when they’re allowed back into evacuation zones.
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