Healing and Rebuilding
We all have stories to share about how we were affected by the Fire. This is Eagle Peak Middle School’s story of how our students, along with the community of Redwood Valley, made the first steps toward healing and rebuilding.
As we resumed school, one of the first unusual sights we noticed was the work trucks on West Road, lots of them, flowing into the Valley from all over the northwestern United States. These were the trucks of the inspectors and debris cleaners and rebuilders and contractors.
They came from Winnemucca, Boise, Eureka, Tacoma, Bend, Susanville, Elko, and Medford. They came from cities that we have traveled through and flown over in past years, ones we perhaps haven’t thought much about, and yet they were here to help. They were joined by an army of PG&E trucks.
Our students returned a week after the Fire. Some came right back as their normal middle school selves and were full of laughter, while others were hurting, confused, and broken.
One blue eyed boy never came back, his life taken by the Fire. Even though school was closed for a week, his friends had already started mourning him through social media vigils and group text tributes. His passing, and his sister’s, and his parents’ fight was and is one of the saddest of the Fire stories.
We will never forget.
The counselors supported all of the hurting children, and the best comfort seemed to come from the hugs and quiet talks friends shared with each other. A little round therapy dog brought tender smiles to kids’ faces, as did the hundreds of cookies sent over from the home ovens of the Pomolita staff.
Community support continues to pour in. The first collective thought to meet the needs of the students who lost their homes was…backpacks! Yet remarkably, most of the students actually grabbed their school backpacks as they fled the approaching flames. So the support response shifted to a more individualized approach.
A student lost his prized amp in the fire: a generous donor gifted him a new amp and a new high end guitar. No P.E. clothes? Covered. No spirit week clothes? Taken care of (Thank you first grade students from St. Charles School in San Carlos). Yearbooks gone? Yearbooks replaced. Ukulele burned, ukulele replaced. And on, and on, and on.
Staff members from a number of schools lost homes. One employee here in the Valley who lost her home, and her parents’ home next door, bravely returned back to work before school reopened to study the road map of Redwood Valley and determine which students were likely to have lost homes and begin phone calls and outreach. Courageous work.
The healing and rebuilding happened next door at the church, which gave out free ice and had its doors open, and also in front of the fire house, at the big church by the tracks, in front of the post office, in front of the market, and inside the old grange, which has never looked better, and never been more full.
The fire chief joined us at our school assembly the first morning back. He wept a little, as he shared strong words of hope and encouragement. Many of the first responders, including scores of volunteers, put their lives on the line again and again that first terrible morning. They repeatedly rescued folks to safety, then headed back into the inferno. We have been able to heal and rebuild more quickly because they saved so many.
The rains came ten days after the start of the Fire. They helped to finally wash away an incessant curtain of smoke, and gave us a magnificent sunrise in the Valley, the first beautiful morning in what seemed like forever.
Shoots of green are now beginning to sprout out of the ash.
As the holidays approach, perhaps we may think for a moment about the comfort the season provides. But even as we do so, we remember that those who lost everything will need even more uplifting from everyone during this time of year.
The grange, the schools, the clubs, the churches, the firehouse, and everyone else will continue to pull together to support the Valley. The Fire may have knocked us down three weeks ago, and in many ways we will be fighting it for years, but we are ultimately going to overcome with love, ukuleles, friendship, cookies, community strength, and rebuilding.