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Tubbs fire, flooding has kept St. Rose Catholic School students from returning to campus

Saint Rose Catholic School on Old Redwood Highway north of Santa Rosa lost its preschool and playground in the October Tubbs fire, but a determined two-hour stand by local firefighters prevented flames in the attic and two classrooms from spreading to the rest of the main building.

What the fire spared, though, water ruined two weeks later.

The private parochial school campus was forced into an extensive renovation after California American Water restored the water pressure before the school could shut down its water system or replace the sprinkler heads activated in the fire, according to principal Kathy Ryan.

She said 5,000 gallons of water flowed into the kindergarten and through the rest of the building.

The 260 K-8 students return to class Jan. 22. In the interim they moved to the original St. Rose School campus in downtown Santa Rosa.

Evan Jacobs, the water company’s spokesman, said in an email that workers shut off sections of the pipeline the week of the fires, but notified the school before pressurizing the main in late October.

Ryan said she and her business manager never received any notification and the school still was under mandatory evacuation at the time. Tiles, drywall and carpet had to be replaced after the flood caused an estimated $1 million in damage, she said.

Although the flood caused major damage, Santa Rosa Fire Capt. Keith Jeffus is grateful the school, built in 1985, survived the fire.

“Carpets and the Sheetrock can be changed, but the school is still standing,” he said.

His engine was the first to arrive at the school that Oct. 9 morning. Flames were shooting out of the roof on the back corner of the building where his four-member crew raced to knock out the blaze. Rincon Valley Fire Capt. Mark Dunn and his crew arrived minutes later.

It took firefighters nearly two hours to control the blaze while shuttling water from nearby Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital’s water system after their tankers ran dry.

“We knew if we could cut it off we would be saving the entire building,” said Jeffus, who lives in Larkfield and drove by the school a week after the fire to make sure it was still standing.

“St. Rose was our little bit of solace in this entire thing, something we looked back at. We worked so hard at that school.”

Katrina Williams said her son, Blake, 11, is ready to go back to the campus. The sixth-grader misses his school’s basketball courts, hot meal cart and science lab, where he helped care for the five classroom snakes and turtle, which survived.

“They’ll be happy to get back to normalcy,” said Williams, a St. Rose alumna and president of the school’s advisory council. “They’ll be back at their place. They’ll be able to pay attention more.”

The 50 or so preschoolers who were temporarily moved to St. Luke Lutheran Church on Mendocino Avenue will return to the campus about a week after the older students, Ryan said, and be in portable classrooms.

Ryan, who taught at St. Rose for nearly a decade before becoming principal 25 years ago, said it was a miracle the school survived the fire, which destroyed the homes of?53 students.

“The whole place should have burned, but it didn’t,” said Ryan. “The workers in there are so upbeat and happy to be putting our school back together again. It’s just such a hopeful sign.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com.

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