After 17 days of scorching more than 150,000 acres in northern California, the Camp Fire - one of the states deadliest and most destructive wildfires on record - has finally been contained.
The fire killed at least 88 people, but that number is expected to rise as nearly 300 people are still unaccounted for. It destroyed some 14,000 residencies and left the town of Paradise, in Butte County, essentially non-existent.
Paradise sits in the northern part of the Diocese of Sacramento. Before the fire was even fully contained, the department of schools for the diocese announced that it would be offering free tuition at its Catholic schools for any Butte County students displaced by the wildfire.
“Paradise it not that small of a city. It has - or had - nearly 30,000 inhabitants, so the fire left around 4,000 school kids displaced, without any schools to go back to,” Lincoln Snyder, executive director of schools for the Diocese of Sacramento, told CNA.
About 90 percent of Paradise is completely burned, and “what remains probably isn’t going to be usable for a long time,” he said.
After meeting with the school board and Bishop Jaime Soto, the diocese announced last week that any open spots in diocesan Catholic schools would be offered to displaced Camp Fire students at no cost to the families. Seats are available for students in preschool through high school.
Normally, tuition for a single student for the remainder of this school year would be about $5,000-$6,000. The free tuition is being funded through a diocesan fundraiser for displaced students, and will cover all school expenses including uniforms, backpacks, field trip money, hot lunches, and any other school-related costs.
“We are heartbroken over the devastation the Camp Fire has caused, and the number of families it has left displaced in its wake. We understand that it may be a long time before students can return to their schools and classrooms in the city of Paradise, and we would like to help by opening up our schools to Butte County students, grades Preschool – 12, who have been displaced by the fires,” Snyder said in a press release announcing the offer.
“Many families have lost nearly everything in this fire, and being back in a school can be a major stabilizing force in a child’s life. Some classes in some of our schools could accommodate more students, and we have thus decided to open those seats to affected families who find themselves near those schools,” he said.
“Though our schools are funded by tuition, we will enroll displaced Butte County students at no cost to the family for the remainder of the academic year.”
So far, Snyder told CNA that they have already been able to enroll several displaced students in Catholic schools, and that the diocese can accommodate dozens or even hundreds of displaced students, though the number of open seats per school varies.
“We’ve had several students apply and we’re making good on the offer, and we’re excited to be able to offer these open spots to the students who’ve been displaced,” he said.
Funds are being collected through a page on the diocesan website. The appeal for the campaign states that while the exact need is difficult to predict at the moment, the funds collected will go to helping these new students, as well as the students already in area Catholic schools who have lost their homes in the fire.