Wildfires close schools across state, sending more than 90,000 students home
At least 13 California school districts in six counties have closed schools this week because they are either in the path of a wildfire or smoke from a fire has made it unhealthy to hold classes.
The school closures have impacted more than 90,500 students in 119 schools, according to Tim Taylor, executive director of the Small School District Association.
Seven of those districts are in Riverside County where the Fairview Fire has burned more than 27,000 acres and is only 5% contained.
Two school districts – Temecula Valley Unified and Hemet Unified – are threatened by the fire, while Nuview Union School District, Romoland Elementary School District, Menifee Union School District, Paris Elementary School District and Paris Union High School District are closed because of poor air quality, according to Kindra Britt, director of Communications for the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association.
The Riverside County closures are impacting 66,239 students at 106 schools, Britt said.
To make matters worse, parts of the county may be subject to public power shutoffs because of Tropical Storm Kay, which is expected to move into the area today. The storm could bring heavy rains, high winds and the possibility of flash floods.
School leaders also are concerned that the heavy rain, following a fire, may cause mudslides, Britt said.
In El Dorado County the Mosquito Fire has damaged Otter Creek School, a tiny one-teacher school in Volcanoville. The playground was burned, but the structure is still standing, said Black Oak Mine Superintendent Jeremy Meyers. Firefighters set a perimeter up around the schoolhouse to protect it as the fire raged through the area yesterday afternoon, he said.
The K-8 school, with 18 students, has been designated a Necessary Small School by the state. Schools are given that designation because it would be a hardship for the students in that community to travel to other schools because of distance or because the roads are impassable in some weather.
Myers is expected to get a better idea of the damage when the fire is over. It’s possible that students may have to travel to Georgetown Elementary to attend school until repairs can be made, he said.
The six other schools in the district are also closed, with Georgetown Elementary School being used as the incident command center for the fire and Golden Sierra High School, also in Georgetown, now the Red Cross command center, Myers said. All the schools are in a mandatory evacuation area, except Northside STEAM School in Cool, which is in an evacuation warning area. The Cool school, a K-6, was closed midday Thursday because of the unhealthy air quality.
The Mosquito Fire, which started Tuesday morning, had burned almost 30,000 acres by 1:30 p.m. today in both El Dorado and Placer counties. It was 0% contained at that time.
In Placer County both the Foresthill Elementary and Foresthill High School districts – both single school districts – have been closed since Wednesday because of the Mosquito Fire, Britt said.
Although there have been no reports of fire damage at the schools, school leaders won’t be able to assess the amount of smoke damage until the fire danger is over, she said. They are working on a long-term plan in case the schools aren’t able to reopen immediately.
Chawanakee Unified School District in Madera County also closed schools this week because of the proximity of the Fork Fire, which has burned 819 acres since it ignited Wednesday.
Bear Valley Unified in San Bernardino County closed all but one of its seven schools midweek after the Radford Fire caused area evacuations.
There is some good news. Siskiyou County, which had three schools closed because of the Mill Fire, has been able to reopen all but Weed High School, Britt said. The high school is expected to reopen Monday.
The Mill Fire, which appears to have started at or near a local mill on Sept. 2, raged through a nearby neighborhood killing two people, injuring three others and destroying 117 homes and businesses, according to CalFire. Almost 4,000 acres have burned.
The state provided the schools with generators and food to help them reopen, Britt said.