Santa Rosa students speak of challenges, hopes after October wildfires

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Special Coverage

This story is part of a monthly series in 2018 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here


Read all of the PD’s fire coverage here

School resumed more than a week ago for thousands of Santa Rosa students. Some returned for a typical school year, while others were still dealing with the pressures of rebuilding their lives after October’s devastating wildfires. We asked seven students who lost a home, school or both about the challenges they faced last year after the wildfires and their feelings about this school year.

Reece Wisler

Senior, Santa Rosa High School

“The most difficult part of last school year was definitely staying focused. The fire was always on my mind, so I really got behind on my schoolwork. This year, I’m looking forward to being in my house again. I’m really excited for that.

The timetable is probably around March. It’s my senior year, and it’s my last chance to do everything. I think that once I get settled (in my house), I’ll finally be able to relax and just be me.”

Liberty Bertuccelli

Seventh-grader, Redwood Adventist Academy

“(The hardest part was) hearing about what happened over and over again and losing the school. There’s not as many people, and some of my friends are gone.

We haven’t been (on campus) in a while. Everything is still kind of new. It’s really surreal. I don’t know if it will really hit me for a long time.

I’m glad we are back on campus, though, and I’m starting seventh grade.”

Samantha Bellinghausen

Junior, Santa Rosa High School

“Probably the most difficult part was being in a leg brace and having to evacuate (my house) on crutches. I had just had surgery a week or two before (the fires). I tore my ACL and my meniscus. I’m the one who woke everyone up in my house the night of the fires, because I was the only one who was awake, and our power had gone out.

My fourth quarter (of school) was completely overwhelming; we were living at my grandma’s house, and it was hard trying to find a place to do homework since we had a ton of people living at her house at the time. This year at school, I’m just looking forward to doing all the fun stuff again, like going to football games.

Outside of school, (I’m looking forward to) starting the progress on our new house. Our goal was to be in by Christmas, but it’s looking more like May or April now. When we get into our new house, we have a big plan. We’re going to have a big welcome back party. It’s going to be a big blowout with lots of food.”

Lacey Parsons

Junior, Maria Carrillo High School

“I think (one of the most challenging parts of last school year) was readjusting after the three-week break, knowing that I didn’t have any of my previous work, homework or textbooks, especially since I took a few honors and AP classes. There was a lot of catching up to do, and it was hard being able to put all my focus back on to school.

(This year, I’m excited to) be able to start the whole year with a new outlook and not have the weight of the fires anymore. I lived in Coffey Park, and now we’re living in a new apartment. It was a very difficult situation to be in those first few months, but knowing that I wasn’t alone in the whole process (was helpful), especially at school. Lots of teachers were helpful with readjusting and were very flexible with my schedule, but also I feel that some did not necessarily take it to heart and continued giving homework.”

Special Coverage

This story is part of a monthly series in 2018 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here


Read all of the PD’s fire coverage here

Kelven Diehl

Junior, Cardinal Newman High School

“The most challenging part for me was staying focused on schoolwork after the fires. It was tough to concentrate on what seemed like meaningless subjects only a few weeks after our family had lost everything. To make it even worse, part of my school, Cardinal Newman, was lost to the fire. Cardinal Newman was like my second home, where I spent so much time playing sports, learning and attending school events.

The sophomore class was taking classes at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Windsor. We didn’t have desks or real classrooms, making it hard to focus when it didn’t seem like a real learning environment. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and playing football and lacrosse this year at Cardinal Newman.

Our family lived on 3 acres on Redwood Hill Road off of Mark West Springs Road. This place was special to me because it was the only home I had ever known, and all of my childhood memories were created there. Our home was unique because of its great views of Riebli Valley and the city of Santa Rosa. … We relocated to a converted barn on a vineyard in west Santa Rosa. It was a sort of place where our family could regroup. We had 20 acres of grapes to roam, and our whole family loved it.”

Biffy Tosti

Senior, Cardinal Newman High School

“I think the hardest part of last year was (my) routine getting messed up. We went from 600 students being on the same campus to each grade being separated at different campuses. Overall, it was just a tough transition, just because I was doing sports and junior year was academically challenging. Every day, I was driving 30 minutes south just to go to school in a gym with 150 students trying to continue our school year.

I think all of us have PTSD. Our house burned down five minutes after we left. Every time I imagine my house, I think of it in flames. Each room, in flames. Each piece of clothing, in flames.

Since October, we’ve moved 13 times. It’s definitely difficult having to deal with school, soccer and having to pick up all my stuff every few months and move to a new house. It’s a different situation than most. So many places we’ve been at, we’ve just thought, it doesn’t feel like home.

I’m definitely looking forward to a change, adapting to the new environment. I mean, it’s not an ideal senior year, but I’m also really excited to graduate.

We are rebuilding, and the house will be done probably a year from now, so I won’t be able to enjoy it, but it will be a nice new place to come back to.”

Grace Stockham

Senior, Cardinal Newman High School

“My sister had to hold up the garage door for us to get out. When we came out of our house, we drove through flames. But now we’re here.

Since part of our school burned down, we had a lot of moving around to do. The workload was really hard, because I was so stressed out after the fires. I can’t really explain it, because it’s so much to look back on. ... I’m looking forward to it being my senior year, and for everything to calm down.

I think of new beginnings. My house is going to be built soon, and I want to go away to school and become a sports reporter.”

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