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After Devastating Fire, Bret Harte Elementary Students Head Back to Class

MODESTO -- Weeks after flames tore through some classrooms at Bret Harte Elementary School, students returned to campus on Tuesday.

"Everything was gone so we have new desks that were in our warehouse. Curriculum materials have been delivered," Modesto City Schools Interim Superintendent Craig Rydquist said.

A total of 10 classrooms at Bret Harte were affected by the fire on Dec. 29. Five rooms were destroyed, including the library and computer lab.

"The fire department estimated the damage to be at $1.5 million based upon whatever calculations they utilize, however, we know the cost of repair of certain things and the replacement is going to much exceed that," Ryndquist said.

In the days leading up to the start of the spring semester, crews have been putting their finishing touches on portable classrooms.

"We just want to put buildings here so we can move forward and focus on our students," Ryndquist said.

But it's not just district staff working furiously, the Modesto community has been rallying around the kids at Bret Harte.

"The community really stepped up and donated a lot of books for libraries and that's something we're really grateful for," Ryndquist told FOX40.

As destructive as the fire was, Ryndquist says he's thankful it happened over the winter break.

"There's never a good time for a fire, but if there was a benefit from this -- that we did have a few weeks to get things here," he said.

Investigators ruled the fire as arson, believing it was set inside one of the classrooms.