Berry Creek Elementary’s road to recovery 3 years after the Bear Fire
Read the transcript
AVA NORGROVE, ANCHOR:
Friday will mark three years since the Bear Fire, later known as the North Complex, destroyed much of the communities of Berry Creek and Feather Falls.
This week we’re bringing you stories about the people recovering from the fire.
Today, NSPR's Alec Stutson reports on the local elementary school's road to recovery.
ALEC STUTSON, REPORTER:
Berry Creek Elementary students get dropped off each morning at the post office. It sits off one of the few paved roads in the recovering community.
A school van picks the kids up, and drives them more than 30 minutes south to Bangor Union Elementary School. Their school was destroyed in the fire, and nearly three years later hasn't been rebuilt.
For Michelle Bankston who has kids in school, the distance can be a problem.
That school was everything to us. We had a lot of our community get-togethers and everything at that school.– Michelle Bankston, Berry Creek resident
BANKSTON: “It's so far away. If somebody was to get sick, you do have to go all the way down in town to get them."
The school vans don't have enough room to fit every student, which can cause financial stress on parents like Trey Victor.
VICTOR: "Ultimately with my financial situation right now … probably have to pull him out if we couldn't have transportation for him down to Bangor."
The school had over 70 students at the time of the fire. Now it has 30.
Berry Creek Elementary Principal Patsy Oxford says a big challenge in the wake of the fire is how long it takes to rebuild.
She says all of her staff members who lived in Berry Creek lost their homes.
OXFORD: "We have employees that ordered modular homes immediately after the fire and still are not in them. So that has been the biggest deterrent is just people finding a place to live and being able to stay up there."
Rebuilding efforts are underway to construct a new school building on the same site as the old one. The goal is for it to be ready for students in the fall of 2024.
Michelle Bankston says it will be a big milestone in the area's recovery.
BANKSTON: "That school was everything to us. We had a lot of our community get-togethers and everything at that school."
She hopes the new building will help bring the community closer together.