Petaluma High School recognizes students who assisted North Coast wildfire victims

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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Laura Sandoval-Rivas and her family opened their Petaluma home to church members and other families who were evacuated shortly after the deadly wildfires erupted last month.

As avid campers, she said, she and her family had plenty of blankets, sleeping bags and cots for all their guests. Sandoval-Rivas estimated her family housed about 100 people over the first few days of the fires, noting that some even slept in the kitchen.

“It was definitely loud,” she said, jokingly. “There were a lot of kids, but it was nice having them. They are our church friends.”

The 17-year-old Petaluma High School senior was among the more than 225 students recognized Wednesday on campus for their service during the wildfires.

They all were named Trojans of the Month after spending days volunteering at emergency shelters, coordinating donations and looking after families and animals displaced in the deadly Oct. 8 fires.

It was the largest group to receive the honor in Petaluma High’s history. The character award usually goes out each month to a handful of students nominated by their teachers for making a difference on campus and demonstrating compassion, leadership or selflessness. Overwhelmed by the number of students who assisted wildfire victims, school officials decided to recognize them all with the award, named after the school’s team.

“These kids put in a lot of time,” Assistant Principal Giovanni Napoli said. “They weren’t asked to. They just did it because they felt it was the right thing to do,”

Napoli handed out certificates to each of the students Wednesday morning as they gathered in the school gym for a group picture. About 20 staff members also were recognized for helping fire victims. They’ll all be invited later in the school year to a special luncheon put on by the Parent Teacher Student Association, Napoli said.

“It’s very honorable and should be recognized,” he said of the students’ service.

Aside from hosting displaced families, Sandoval-Rivas volunteered at the emergency shelter that opened at the Cavanagh Center in downtown Petaluma. She also helped translate for Spanish-speaking families at the medical clinic set up at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds.

Grete Hansen, a school secretary who also was recognized Wednesday, headed straight to the emergency shelter set up at sister school Casa Grande High. She spent two days straight assisting families and seniors. Her mother works at Casa Grande as a senior school secretary.

Hansen said she was able to take a 45-minute nap in her mother’s office before heading back to help the families and take in donations. Many students worked alongside her.

“To see that was really impressive, especially at such a young age,” Hansen said.

Juniors Lucas Cheda and Amanda King, both 16, also spent days at the fairgrounds, watching over animals displaced by the fires.

Despite having to evacuate calves from his family’s ranch on Sonoma Mountain, Cheda said he put in about 100 hours the first week of the fires caring for dozens of animals, including beef and dairy cattle, chickens, donkeys, emus, goats, horses and at least 68 rabbits. The animals were coming from all over the county.

Cheda, who slept a night in the fairground’s livestock office to be close to the animals, assembled evacuation teams, asking friends with trailers to help families unable to haul away their animals.

Meanwhile, King used Facebook to connect families to people with trailers.

King, who spent about 80 hours at the fairgrounds livestock barns, said they didn’t do it for recognition, but rather felt a duty to assist those in the close-knit agriculture community.

“I knew a lot of people who were in those evacuated areas,” she said.

“Everyone was really in shock. They didn’t know what was happening,” King added. “It was nice to know that I was able to help.”

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

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

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