For Girl Displaced by Camp Fire, Coming Back to School Feels Both Strange and Familiar

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Thousands of families were left with nothing after the Camp Fire raged through Butte County and almost completely wiped out the town of Paradise.

It is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

FOX40 is following one family over the next year as they take the long journey toward recovery.

For 11-year-old Skielar Ritza, it’s time to go back to school.

She is heading to class in a new building in a new city. It’s her first time back to school since the Camp Fire destroyed her home, her community and her sense of normalcy.

“I think it’s going to get halfway to normal, but it’ll probably never be normal for us,” Skielar said.

Skielar and her mom, aunts and grandmother have been couch surfing and staying in hotel rooms since the fire. They’ve been forced to go all over the state, wherever they could find shelter, so going back to her school just wasn’t an option.

“Since the fire happened we haven’t been apart. I’ve never dropped her off anywhere. It’s like I’m letting her go,” Skielar’s mom Ashley said.

Now that they’ve found an apartment in Chico, Skielar ready to head back to Paradise Charter Middle, but class isn’t being held in its old location.

The fire destroyed everything around Paradise Charter Middle School. The school itself is still standing, but inside, there’s extensive smoke damage.

For now, students and teachers are set up in spare classrooms at Core Butte Charter School in Chico.

“Seeing it, I know she’s going to be OK, I know she’s going to be OK, I know she’s going to be comfortable,” Ashley said. “Seeing all of her friends run up to her and seeing the smiles on their faces, it made me happy.”

By the end of her first day back, Skielar’s spirits were lifted too.

Teachers like Amy Behlke are trying to make these new classrooms feel familiar.

“The desks were brought over from my classroom in Paradise. They were cleaned and brought down. So I think that meant a lot to them,” Behlke said. “They walked in and said, ‘This looks like your old classroom.’ I think it meant a lot to them to have a little piece of home.”

Skielar is still learning her way around the new campus, and knows it will take some time.

“It’s definitely not going to be the same as it was,” Skielar said. “I really liked our other school more than this. I miss it.”

But with her family and friends by her side, Skielar is ready to take on whatever the next chapter in her life might hold.


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