Striking Los Angeles teachers set for mass rally as talks resume

FILE PHOTO: Los Angeles teachers carry signs as they picket in the rain in Los Angeles, California, U.S. January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Whitcomb

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Los Angeles teachers union officials on Friday called for a mass rally to show support before their second round of contact talks to settle a week-long strike that has disrupted classes for some 500,000 students in the second largest U.S. school system.

At the request of Mayor Eric Garcetti, negotiators for the United Teachers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District returned to the bargaining table on Thursday for the first time since talks broke off a week ago.

Garcetti, who is mediating talks even though he has no direct authority over the school district, said on Twitter that the two sides had “productive” negotiations that went past midnight and were set to resume at 11 a.m. PST (1900 GMT).

Both sides agreed to a news blackout during the mediated talks. Negotiations, which had gone on for 21 months before some 30,000 teachers walked off the job on Monday, have been centered largely on union demands for smaller classes, more support staff and higher pay.

The labor strife in Los Angeles follows a wave of teacher strikes last year across the United States over salaries and school funding, including walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona. While those strikes represented conflicts between teachers unions and Republican-controlled state governments, the Los Angeles strike pits educators against Democratic leaders.

At an early-morning rally at City Hall, union leaders urged members and supporters to turn out en masse for a larger assembly later Friday at nearby Grand Park.

“We are willing to go as long as it takes and work as hard as we need to, to get a fair contract,” union Secretary Arlene Inouye told supporters, adding that she expected the talks to last through the three-day holiday weekend.

School Superintendent Austin Beutner has said the demands, if fully met, would be too great a budget strain. Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl has insisted sufficient funding is available, given the right priorities.

The district said in a statement late Thursday the strike had already cost about $100 million and that “our students are missing out on the opportunity to learn.”

Although the strike has disrupted classes, support for teachers was running high among parents, several major possible Democratic presidential contenders and the public at large, as reflected in a recent survey of Los Angeles residents.

District officials have kept all 1,200 schools open on a limited basis with a skeleton staff, but attendance was running well below normal.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe)

No clear path for California as massive PG&E utility nears bankruptcy

FILE PHOTO: PG&E works on power lines to repair damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – PG&E Corp’s announcement that it will file for bankruptcy, citing massive potential liability from deadly wildfires, puts California politicians in quandary, whether to offer a bailout or risk allowing the state’s largest private utility to fail.

Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, told reporters late on Monday his team was discussing the possibility of helping PG&E stay solvent, but no decisions had been made.

And lawmakers in the state legislature, who last year approved a bill making it easier for PG&E to bill ratepayers for the costs of wildfires sparked by its equipment in 2017, said that there was less support this year for extending additional financial assistance to the company.

“We would like to see it (bankruptcy) avoided, but we are not naive,” Newsom said. “I’m cognizant of the taxpayers, and I’m cognizant of the ratepayers, and I’m absolutely cognizant of those who lost everything.”

FILE PHOTO: Forensic anthropologists recover remains from a trailer home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Forensic anthropologists recover remains from a trailer home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester/File Photo

PG&E’s announcement on Monday that it intends to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as early as this month, citing potential liability exceeding $30 billion due to wildfires, came a day after its chief executive officer, Geisha Williams, was ousted from her post.

PG&E, which ranks as the largest U.S. power utility by the number of customers, supplies electricity to 40 percent of Californians. The state, Newsom said, is determined to keep service running to those customers.

But the utility’s power equipment has been linked to the ignition of more than a dozen wildfires in the past two years and is a suspected cause of the deadliest fire in state history, which swept through the town of Paradise in November, killing 86 people and destroying 90 percent of homes and businesses there.

Mark Toney, executive director of consumer advocate group the Utility Reform Network, said the atmosphere had cooled considerably toward PG&E in recent months, making a bailout politically more difficult for lawmakers.

“PG&E is going to have a much harder time because it doesn’t appear that they’ve learned any lessons,” Toney said.

FILE PHOTO: Statues are seen on a property damaged by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Statues are seen on a property damaged by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

MIXED SIGNALS

The legislature and the governor could decide to allow PG&E to pass along the costs associated with victim lawsuits and other fire losses to ratepayers, as they did last year for a series of deadly northern California blazes in 2017.

Such legislation would also let utilities shift some future fire-related costs to consumers so long as regulators find no negligence on the companies’ part.

But state lawmakers have given mixed signals about what they might do about liability stemming from the deadly Camp Fire of November 2018 that incinerated most of Paradise.

Legislators representing areas devastated by wildfires have opposed any bailout for PG&E, saying its investors should absorb the costs – even if that means the company is bankrupted.

PG&E’s safety record has come under sharp scrutiny before.

State Senator Jerry Hill, whose district includes the site of the deadly 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion determined to have been caused by PG&E’s criminal negligence said support for the utility was softer this year.

“I think there’s less chance, less thought of a bailout this year than we saw last year, certainly,” said Hill, who has the names of the nine people killed in the San Bruno blast framed in his office.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif.; Editing by Steve Gorman and Clarence Fernandez)

Los Angeles teachers strike, shutting classes in second-largest U.S. system

The downtown skyline is pictured in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – More than 30,000 Los Angeles teachers demanding higher pay and smaller class sizes walked off the job in the second-largest U.S. school system on Monday, union officials said, leaving 640,000 students in limbo.

Students arriving for classes at some 900 campuses in the Los Angeles County School District were met by teachers carrying picket signs and rallying in the rain for higher salaries, increased staff and smaller classes, the city’s first teachers’ strike in three decades.

The action is the latest in a wave of teachers’ strikes across the United States, following large-scale actions that began in West Virginia and spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.

While those cases represented unions battling Republican-dominated state legislatures that had focused on cutting spending, the Los Angeles strike is the largest targeting a Democratic-controlled government. Los Angeles County officials contend the strikers’ demands are unaffordable.

Videos posted on Twitter by the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), showed teachers and others marching with picket signs outside of a local public school chanting.

“The district would like us to believe that class sizes don’t matter,” said Mabel Wong, a teacher at John Marshall High School, during a news conference on Monday.

The union wants a 6.5 percent pay raise, more librarians, counselors and nurses on campuses, smaller class sizes and less testing, as well as a moratorium on new charter schools.

Talks broke down on Friday, when union negotiators said they were “insulted” by the latest offer of a 6 percent salary increase from district officials.

Some teachers in Denver also walked out on Monday amid salary negotiations, according to a video posted on the Denver Classroom Teachers Association’s Twitter page.

Officials from the Los Angeles County School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Los Angeles County School Superintendent Austin Beutner said Friday’s offer to teachers was beefed up after newly installed California Governor Gavin Newsom increased education spending in his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.

County officials have said UTLA’s demands would bankrupt the district.

“Our commitment to our families is to make sure all of the money we have is being spent in schools. We are doing that,” Beutner said in a statement on Friday. “We hope UTLA leadership will reconsider its demands, which it knows Los Angeles Unified cannot meet.”

Nearly a year ago, West Virginia teachers picketed for more than a week, pressing lawmakers for higher salaries in a state with some of the lowest-paid teachers in the country. State officials eventually approved a 5 percent pay raise for all state workers.

In April 2018, teachers in Oklahoma ended a nearly two-week strike that affected about 500,000 schools and 700,000 students after securing pay raises and increased education funding from Republican leaders. In Kentucky and Arizona, teachers saw a boost in funding and wages last year after walkouts.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Grant McCool)

Forest fire insurance costs soar

FILE PHOTO: A group of U.S. Forest Service firefighters monitor a back fire while battling to save homes at the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

MUNICH (Reuters) – Forest fires are becoming increasingly likely because of climate change and cost insurers more than ever, with the deadly fire that ravaged northern California the single most expensive natural disaster in 2018, Munich Re said on Tuesday.

The California wildfire that devastated the small town of Paradise in November caused losses of $16.5 billion, of which $12.5 billion were insured, according to the reinsurer’s annual catastrophe report.

Worldwide natural disasters caused $160 billion in economic damage in 2018. That was down from $350 billion the previous year, but a number of devastating hurricanes had contributed to the high losses in 2017.

Insurers and reinsurers paid out $80 billion for natural disaster claims last year, down from $140 billion a year earlier but almost double the 30-year average of $41 billion, the reinsurer said.

Munich Re board member Torsten Jeworrek said that 2018 was marked by several severe natural disasters with high insured losses.

“These include the unusual coincidence of severe cyclones in the U.S. and Japan, and devastating forest fires in California,” he said, adding that climate change appears to be making such large fires more common.

Insurers spent $18 billion on two huge fires in the United States in 2018 – equivalent to one in every four dollars they paid out as a result of natural disasters.

Ernst Rauch, the reinsurer’s chief climatologist, told Reuters that forest fires were entering a whole new dimension, costing tens of billions of dollars.

“Higher and higher temperatures are leading to ever greater droughts, and high humidity in the winter means that shrubbery grows quickly, creating an easily flammable material in dry summers,” he said.

Rauch said it was questionable whether areas at high risk could continue to be populated without taking additional measures, such as building houses further from forests and with better safety standards.

In Europe, an unusually hot summer caused a drought that wrought considerable damage on the agricultural sector and was the continent’s most expensive natural disaster at $3.9 billion. However, only a fraction of those losses were insured.

Reinsurers act as a financial backstop to insurance companies, paying a chunk of the big claims for storms or earthquakes in exchange for part of the policy premiums.

Hurricanes and typhoons caused $56 billion of damage last year. Hurricane Michael, which wrought devastation in Florida, was the most expensive for insurers, causing losses of $10 billion.

The review gave no claims figures for Munich Re itself. The reinsurer is due to report fourth-quarter results on Feb. 6.

(Reporting by Alexander Huebner; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by David Goodman)

Suspect in California shooting in U.S. illegally, prompting Trump tweet

A still photo taken from surveillance video of an unidentified alleged gunman involved in the shooting death of 33-year-old police officer Ronil Singh, in Newman, California, U.S., December 26, 2018. Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A suspect wanted in the shooting death of a California police officer was believed to be in the United States illegally, a county sheriff said on Thursday as President Donald Trump cited the manhunt in his push for a wall on the border with Mexico.

Trump tweeted about the shooting on the sixth day of a shutdown of the federal government, which was triggered by his $5 billion demand, largely opposed by Democrats and some lawmakers in Trump’s own Republican party, for the wall he wants to build.

A police officer for the city of Newman, a small Northern California town, was shot and killed there on Wednesday, after pulling over a suspect on suspicion of driving under the influence, authorities said.

The suspect, whose name has not been released, exchanged gunfire with the officer before fleeing, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson told reporters. The officer, identified as 33-year-old Ronil Singh, was struck by gunfire and taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

“This suspect is in our country illegally,” Christianson said at a news conference. “He doesn’t belong here, he’s a criminal. We will find him we will arrest him and we will bring him to justice.”

Trump, during his campaign for president and in the White House, has often highlighted crimes by people who came to the United States without authorization as he has pushed for tougher enforcement of immigration laws.

“There is right now a full scale manhunt going on in California for an illegal immigrant accused of shooting and killing a police officer during a traffic stop,” Trump tweeted on Thursday. “Time to get tough on Border Security. Build the Wall!”

Christianson did not give the nationality of the suspect or say how long he was believed to have been in the United States without authorization.

A Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office spokesman could not be reached for further comment.

The suspect is believed to still be in Stanislaus County, a largely agricultural area less than 50 miles (80 km) east of San Jose, Christianson said.

Singh was a native of Fiji who immigrated to the United States to become a police officer, Newman Police Chief Randy Richardson told reporters.

“He was never in a bad mood, it was unreal, he loved what he did,” Richardson said at the news conference, breaking down in tears at times.

During the traffic stop, Singh told emergency dispatchers shots had been fired, authorities said, but the suspect fled in a Dodge Ram pickup truck before other officers could arrive.

 

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Grant McCool)

Insurance claims for latest California wildfires top $9 billion

FILE PHOTO: A van marked by search crews is seen in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester/File Photo

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Insurance claims from the recent spate of California wildfires, including one ranked as the most deadly and destructive in state history, have topped $9 billion and are expected to grow, the state insurance commissioner reported on Wednesday.

The claims, so far, fall short of the record $12 billion in wildfire-related insured losses sustained in California in 2017, most of that from more than a dozen blazes that swept a large swath of wine country north of San Francisco Bay, killing 46 people.

This year, the Camp Fire that erupted on Nov. 8 has accounted for the bulk of the claims, just over $7 billion of the total. The wind-driven blaze quickly incinerated most of the Sierra foothills town of Paradise, about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, destroying 18,500 homes and businesses and killing 86 people.

The casualty toll stands as the greatest loss of life from a single wildfire on record in California and the highest from any U.S. wildfire during the past century.

A pair of smaller blazes that broke out at about the same time in Southern California, the Woolsey and Hill fires, killed three people and destroyed some 1,500 structures and forced the evacuation of thousands in the Malibu area west of Los Angeles.

The insurance commissioner put preliminary insurance claims from those two fires combined at more than $2 billion, bringing the total for all three of last month’s blazes to $9.05 billion.

The tally reflects losses for residential and commercial coverage, as well as for motor vehicles, agriculture, machinery and other assets, the Insurance Department said.

“The devastating wildfires of 2018 were the deadliest and most destructive wildfire catastrophes in California’s history,” Commissioner Dave Jones said in a statement.

The numbers released on Wednesday stem from almost 40,000 separate claims, more than a fourth of which represent total losses. Most of those, 10,564, were for personal residential property, the commissioner said.

But the figures do not include billions of dollars in potential losses faced by Pacific Gas Electric Company in the event the utility’s electrical equipment is ultimately found to have caused the Camp Fire. PG&E Corp has said its liability could exceed its insurance coverage if that happens.

Citigroup Inc analysts have projected the company’s potential exposure from the blaze could exceed $15 billion.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

California utility probing possibility wires involved in wildfire

(Reuters) – A California utility informed regulators on Thursday that it was investigating whether a devastating wildfire near Malibu last month may have been caused by contact between a wire that provides pole support and a live wire.

Southern California Edison, in a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission, said it had not found evidence of an energized wire on the ground in the area where the Woolsey Fire was believed to have started on Nov. 8.

It did, however, find a so-called guy wire, which runs from the top of the pole to the ground, near a jumper wire that is used to connect two energized lines.

The utility said it is evaluating whether the guy wire came into contact with the jumper, which could have had the potential to cause the blaze. Some of the equipment is currently being tested by fire officials.

The cause of the fire may not be determined until additional information is available, Edison said.

The Woolsey Fire burned 97,000 acres near the Malibu coast, destroying 1,500 structures and causing three deaths, according to state fire officials.

Southern California Edison is a division of Edison International.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Parts of ravaged Paradise open for first time since California wildfire

FILE PHOTO: Deer are seen on a property damaged by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

By Saif Tawfeeq

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Thousands of Paradise residents who fled a monster blaze a month ago were allowed on Wednesday to return to some neighborhoods in the Northern California city nearly obliterated by one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history.

Tim Moniz, a rice farmer, and welder in his 50s, personally surveyed the remains of his Paradise property for the first time since the fire, confirming his suspicions that his house was gone. He and his wife only recently paid off the mortgage.

“It seems unfair that some houses make it and yours don’t,” Moniz said. “I just had to get back up and see it and try to salvage something.”

Paradise residents who return to their ravaged homes will face a daunting task to resume normal life, with some likely to encounter months or even years of work to obtain compensation for their losses and rebuild.

Authorities hurriedly evacuated some 50,000 people in Paradise and neighboring towns when the Camp Fire erupted on Nov. 8. The fire killed at least 85 people with nearly a dozen still unaccounted for. It also destroyed nearly 14,000 homes in the wooded, foothill communities.

Evacuation orders were previously lifted in areas outside Paradise, but Wednesday marked the first day officials opened parts of the city itself in the midst of the fire’s scorched wasteland of 153,000 acres (61,900 hectares).

REBUILDING A RESHAPED TOWN

Moniz said he is among those planning to rebuild, rather than move away.

But the fire’s devastation will reshape the town and – at least initially – lower its population, Paradise Mayor Jody Jones said by telephone.

“All my friends who are in their 80s, they’re just not going to go through this process of rebuilding,” Jones said, adding she believes three-quarters of Paradise residents will rebuild.

Some residents may be able to salvage jewelry or even stuff such as intact tool boxes from the rubble of their houses, said Jones, who lost her own home in the fire.

Some residents rumbled back into town in recreational vehicles, apparently planning to spend the night, Paradise Police Chief Eric Reinbold said by phone.

Authorities said they will let some residents stay overnight on their properties, but advise against it because electricity, gas and other services were not available.

Paradise’s skyline is dotted with 30 large cranes that crews are using to remove debris, said city spokesman Matt Gates.

Health and safety specialists are sweeping through Paradise to remove batteries, propane tanks, household chemicals and other environmental hazards in the aftermath of the fire, Gates said. Residents entering the re-opened areas of town were offered gear to protect themselves from hazardous materials, Reinbold said.

Full removal of debris could take nine months, Jones said.

(Reporting by Saif Tawfeeq; Additional reporting and writing by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

Search for remains in California’s deadliest wildfire officially ends

FILE PHOTO: A man looks at a map of the Camp Fire at a Red Cross shelter in Chico, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

By Lee van der Voo

CHICO, Calif. (Reuters) – Three weeks after flames incinerated most of a Northern California town in the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, the search for more human remains has officially ended with at least 88 people confirmed dead and nearly 200 still listed as missing.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said he was optimistic that some who remain unaccounted for will turn up alive, but he also left open the possibility that “bones or bone fragments” of additional victims could turn up as evacuation zones are reopened to civilians.

With the fire reduced to embers, the National Weather Service on Thursday issued a flash-flood warning for the burn zone as showers and thunderstorms heightened the risk of heavy runoff in areas stripped of vegetation by the fire.

At a news conference on Wednesday night, Honea said search and recovery teams had finished combing through the ruins of approximately 18,000 homes and other buildings leveled by the Camp Fire, which ranks as the most destructive in state history.

The bulk of the devastation occurred in and around the hamlet of Paradise, a town once home to nearly 27,000 people, many of them retirees, in the Sierra foothills about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco.

More than 1,000 personnel, including cadaver dog teams, forensic anthropologists, coroners and National Guard troops from five states, took part in the grim effort.

“I believe that we have done our due diligence with regard to searching for human remains. My sincere hope is that no additional human remains will be located,” Honea told reporters in the nearby town of Chico.

Asked directly whether authorities had ceased actively searching burned structures, the sheriff answered yes.

The current death toll of 88 already stands as the greatest loss of life on record from a single wildfire in California and the most from a wildfire anywhere in the United States dating back to Minnesota’s 1918 Cloquet Fire, which killed as many as 1,000 people. The Camp Fire also exceeds the 87 lives lost in the Big Burn firestorm that swept the Northern Rockies in 1910.

Authorities attribute the Camp Fire’s high casualty count in large part to the tremendous speed with which flames raced through Paradise with little advance warning, driven by howling winds and fueled by drought-desiccated scrub and trees.

The remains of many victims were found in the ashen rubble of homes, others inside or near the burned-out wreckage of vehicles.

The cause of the blaze, which was fully contained earlier this week, remained under investigation. But PG&E Corp reported equipment problems near the origin of the fire around the time it began on Nov. 8.

The official roster of people unaccounted for has fluctuated widely from day to day, but as of Wednesday night, the list was winnowed to 196 names, down from a peak of 1,200-plus over a week ago.

The sheriff said the list had since been scrubbed of all duplicate names and that investigators had caught up with a backlog of unprocessed missing-persons reports.

(Reporting by Lee van der Voo in Chico, Calif.; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Schools work to restore routine to children of lost Paradise

FILE PHOTO: Statues are seen on a property damaged by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

By Lee Van Der Voo

CHICO, Calif. (Reuters) – For two dozen third-graders who survived the massive wildfire that largely obliterated Paradise, California, school is now the small home of their teacher, Sheri Eichar: Reading center on the couch, math in the kitchen nook, language in the corner.

When it’s time for recess, the pupils jog around the block of Eichar’s suburban neighborhood in Chico, a 20-minute drive from Paradise.

Of the 24 kids in Eichar’s class at Children’s Community Charter School, 20 lost their homes in the Camp Fire, which broke out near Paradise on November 8 and swept through the small mountain community, killing at least 88 people.

The blaze, which is now fully contained, is already the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, with 158 people still unaccounted for as search and rescue teams comb through the rubble and ash for human remains.

Many of Paradise’s 27,000 residents are now settled in and around Chico after the firestorm that consumed the town and destroyed the elementary school.

Within days of the evacuation, Eichar notified her students that classes would resume in her three-bedroom home and she and her husband moved the couches around so the children can sit on the floor of their living room.

On the first day, “The kids walked in like they did it every day of their lives,” Eichar said, and lined up side by side on the couches. Ten to 12 students come most days, although 18 turned up on Tuesday.

“They just needed each other so bad. This fire has created such isolation for the families and these children. They just need to be together,” she said.

MORE FUN

Eleanor Weddig, 8, says the home is more fun than a schoolhouse.

“Well, I love it. It’s like more comfortable than our classroom, the chairs are cushy,” Weddig said. “And anyway it’s a house so it’s like more fancy and stuff, and she cooks us great lunches.”

All told, 5,000 students have been displaced from Paradise schools. Eight of nine schools in the Paradise Unified School District are damaged or destroyed.

Students left homeless are eligible under federal law to re-enroll in a school wherever they temporarily reside, said Tom DeLapp of the Butte County Office of Education.

Officials are scrambling to identify commercial buildings, available real estate, mobile classrooms and partnerships with other agencies to keep classrooms and kids together.

“It could be years,” before schools are rebuilt in Paradise, DeLapp said. “While the place burned down in 24 hours, we can’t rebuild it in 24 hours.”

TEST SCORES

Families and staff at Children’s Community Charter School gathered at the Grace Community Church in Chico on Tuesday to hear about plans for recovery.

Starting Monday, the school’s 220 students will begin holding classes at a church gym in Chico. On Friday, a second charter school will squeeze into the same space.

Principal Steve Hitchko says it will be tricky. There is only one restroom, and students have missed a lot of classes.

“Will our test scores suffer? Yeah. I’m just going to be honest with you. We’re going through trauma,” Hitchko said.

At the meeting, parents voiced concerns about long commutes from new or temporary homes, counseling services and after-school programs. Children wondered whether there would be books and computers.

For many, the meeting was an emotional reunion. Some parents and children were seeing each other for the first time since the fire.

Staff members there included Jessica Hamack, the school’s office manager, who was applauded by parents for canceling classes when the fire rapidly overtook Paradise. Some credit her cancellation notice for alerting them to the flames.

Hamack said she issued the alert after seeing flames behind the school when she arrived for work, adding: “There were already kids in my office and that made me nervous.”

(Reporting by Lee Van Der Voo in Chico, California; Writing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sonya Hepinstall)