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Students impacted by Oak Fire in Mariposa County start new school year

ABC 30 Fresno logo ABC 30 Fresno 8/18/2022 KFSN
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Students in Mariposa County returned to class on Wednesday, but dozens are still dealing with the impacts of the Oak Fire.

Students lined up outside in the morning to practice a fire drill for the first time this school year.

The threat is all too familiar just weeks after the Oak Fire ripped through Mariposa County charring 19,244 acres.

Superintendent Jeff Aranguena says more than 50 students in the district were impacted by the blaze and schools are hoping to make the transition back for them as smooth as possible.

"This was an absolute disaster for many of our families here in the community, lost over 120 homes, over a third of the entire county's population was under an evacuation order at some point, and so, although we've moved on from the fire, we don't take that lightly, we know that we want to support those students first and foremost," Aranguena said.

RELATED: Oak Fire: Owners of destroyed homes face tens of thousands of dollars in rebuilding costs

Counselors called those students before they returned to campus to see if they needed any last-minute help and emotional support services are available.

But they're also providing practical items and making sure students have what they need to get back into the swing of things.

"We're making sure they have basic school supplies, backpacks, PE clothes, ASB cards. We want them to be able to participate in our activities and our dances and not have that be a financial issue," Mariposa County High School Principal Celeste Azevedo.

Despite the shadow of the Oak Fire on the new school year, staff says there's a buzz around the students.

This year, they're returning in-person and without COVID restrictions.

Senior Caitlyn Tillery says this is the first time it's felt normal since her freshman year.

"It has been really great being back with all of my friends and getting to see everyone again," Tillery said.

Now, as the student leadership president, she's looking to create new memories and experiences.

After years of Zoom calls, modified homecoming celebrations, and dances held outdoors, she's ready to make up for lost time.

"Because like with COVID, everything got sort of messed up and school spirit isn't really around and so I think that's my main goal to bring that back," Tillery said.

Tillery and Azevedo say they hope to bring back some old traditions and create new ones.

That started Wednesday with a rally to close out the first day of school.

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