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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Twins Emilie and Olivia Savage watched nervously this week as Dawn Stornetta, the agriculture program adviser at Santa Rosa High School, and a classmate demonstrated how to shear lambs.

Soon, the siblings had clippers in their hands.

“Push down a little bit, so you can get it all off,” Stornetta said as Olivia Savage trimmed the wool off her 4-month-old lamb, Leo, which baaed and fidgeted.

“It’s OK,” Stornetta said. “He’s going to move.”

The 15-year-old twins, sophomores at Santa Rosa High, are in their second year with the school’s agriculture program. They’re raising goats and lambs to showcase this summer in the Sonoma County Fair — a project they feared would be canceled after the school farm burned down in October’s firestorm.

Jackson Family Wines has provided space at its sprawling Russian River Valley vineyard and ranch, previously owned by the late Saralee and Richard Kunde. There, at a barn on the south end of Slusser Road property, the students are raising their animals at least until the end of summer, Stornetta said.

“We’re grateful the community came forward to help us,” she said. “Most of our kids are city kids. They can’t keep the animals at home. Without that site, they can’t have a project.”

For the past six years, Stornetta lived in a home on the 60-acre school farm on Alba Lane, just off Old Redwood Highway near Cardinal Newman High School. When the Tubbs fire came charging down the road early Oct. 9, she narrowly escaped.

She grabbed her car keys, wallet and 12-year-old chocolate lab, Mocha, and fled the farm around 1:30 a.m. Within minutes, flames engulfed the home and barns. The fire destroyed everything on the site, with the exception of four three-sided metal structures that students used to keep their market animals, Stornetta said.

About $30,000 in equipment was lost in the blaze.

Luckily, no animals were at the farm that morning. Just days before, Stornetta had taken the remaining 20 goats and lambs used for breeding to a property in the Sebastopol area to graze.

“I don’t think I would have been able to get them out,” she said.

The Santa Rosa FFA is raising money to rebuild the school farm. It put on a dinner and auction Saturday evening at the Windsor’s Mary Agatha Furth Center on Old Redwood Highway.

“It was like having another home,” Emilie Savage said of the school farm. “It was a place where we felt comfortable, where we knew we were welcomed.”

The first morning of the fire, Santa Rosa High senior Trey Hennes, a veteran of the school’s FFA program, reached out to Stornetta after he and his family escaped their Coffey Park neighborhood.

The 17-year-old has spent nearly four years on the school farm. He helped launch a hop cultivation project at the site and prune all the fruit trees, which also burned.

“To lose that in a day was a difficult experience,” said Hennes, whose family lost their Dogwood Drive home in the Tubbs fire. They now live in a Rohnert Park condominium, making his morning commutes to feed his animals four times as long.

He’s grateful for the temporary space at Jackson Family Wines, but he’s optimistic the school district will rebuild the Alba Lane farm.

Santa Rosa school board members this week agreed to hire a firm to assist with its insurance claims, including the one involving the farm.

“Santa Rosa City Schools is still working with our insurance carrier to reach a settlement on the farm,” said Rick Edson, assistant superintendent of business services.

Edson said the goal is to start rebuilding this upcoming school year. Santa Rosa High students had been using the Alba farm since the 1990s. A pig barn on the main campus was hit by a small fire last week, but no animals were hurt and firefighters put out the flames before they inflicted serious damage.

Superintendent Diann Kitamura said many people reached out to the district and offered space for this year’s fair animals, including private families and the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

“With the loss of the barn structures at the SRHS farm, a place for our FFA animal projects to be raised is invaluable,” she said.

Stornetta said they picked the Jackson site because of its proximity to the Alba farm. It’s only six minutes away.

Janely Rodriguez Reyna, a 15-year-old sophomore who has been in FFA for two years, said she’s glad to see the program continue this year despite the fire.

“I knew if we just kept our heads up, we’d be fine in the end,” she said as her lamb, Meatloaf, walked around her in circles. She just had finished trimming his coat.

“But I’m hoping we get to go back to our home,” Rodriguez said.

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

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