California Schools in the Face of Wildfires

Ryan Cvelbar '19

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A few weeks ago, California schools were forced to take action in the face of engulfing flames. From restricting activities to the indoors, to having “fire days” (the equivalent of a snow day), all the way to having school burnt down entirely, it is evident that California’s schools have taken a hit from these fires. As of November 11, the 2018 wildfire season is the most destructive wildfire season on record in California, with a total of 7,579 fires burning an area of 1,667,855 acres. This is the largest amount of burned acreage recorded in a fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fires have caused more than $2.975 billion in damages, including $1.366 billion in fire suppression costs.

Sarah Ravani of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that nearly 90 percent of school districts in Sonoma County shut down due to smoky air from the deadly Camp Fire (as these fires are being called) in Paradise, California. Moreover, NPR writer Carl Boisrond reported that the wildfires in Northern California cut across a wide swath of the state; including dozens of school districts, hundreds of schools and hundreds of thousands of students. At one point, classes were canceled for a shocking 260,000 students in 600 schools.                                                                                                                                 In response to Boisrond, Jill Ruzicka, the head of one of the school districts affected by the fires, stated her reason for canceling school: “One of the main concerns is the poor air quality, and that makes sense, considering that the smoke from the wildfires is equivalent to the pollution created by all of the state’s cars.” Additionally, according to reporter Emma Whitford, the statement that the California air is dangerous is true. She analyzes statistics from PurpleAir, an air quality monitoring network, and claims that California’s air is among the worst in the world, and is a breeding ground for potential fires.                                                                                                                                     Furthermore, Ravani stated that schools including Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Sebastopol, Geyserville, and elsewhere were shut down. Also, Sacramento State University and UC Davis, Universities nearly 80 miles away from the fires, also had days off due to the poor air quality. Additionally, Stanford University canceled class and outdoor activities for a number of days in response to the air getting more dangerous. In addition, California State University, Chico suspended classes on Nov. 9 through the Thanksgiving holiday. Likewise, Pepperdine University’s Malibu and Calabasas campuses remained closed through the Thanksgiving holiday. Also, the University of California at Berkeley canceled classes and shut down all but essential operations.      In response to this disaster, Carl Boisrond notes that action is being taken. He states that “Around the affected region, schools and communities are working to ensure that students have the things they need to come back to school: clothing, backpacks, school supplies, hygiene kits, bicycles and, crucially, access to trauma-informed care and counseling.” Yet, there are still people concerned that the state is not doing enough to get students back in school fast enough.                                                                                         With all of this chaos going on in California, we should be lucky that we are in a place that doesn’t stand the immediate threat of devastation by fire. We should be grateful that we are where we are, and that we are in a community where these types of internal conflicts do not occur.