PARADISE, Calif. — In the town of Paradise, in the midst of what the Camp Fire left behind, the high school is untouched and unoccupied.
Loren Lighthall, who announced this week that he's stepping down as the principal at Paradise High School, said despite having been mostly untouched structurally, is now being run in an office building in Chico.
“The high school is in pretty good shape," Lighthall explained. "We’re pretty lucky. A lot of the trees there are dead, so it’s a hazard. The water is not drinkable, so that’s been an issue."
In addition to the myriad hazards at the school, Lighthall said they've lost at least 25 percent of the students to fire-induced migration. After the fire wiped out the small town, many families and students left to Texas and Oregon and San Francisco and wherever else they might have a chance at settling.
It is an impact and a reality Lighthall felt at home as a dad to seven kids. Like so many families, Lighthall lost his house in the Camp Fire. “We didn’t know until three weeks later and you weren’t allowed into Paradise,” Lighthall recalled.
But that wasn't the only thing he lost.
Lighthall announced in a Facebook post Monday that he’s leaving to be principal at Hughson High School, a school in a small town just south of Modesto and nearly 200 miles away from Paradise.
“For our family, the trauma of the event is just as important as finding housing," Lighthall said. "Every time we go to church it’s a pity party, and every time we go to school we’re reminded this isn’t our school. Every time we come home we’re reminded it isn’t our house."
Since the fire, the Lighthall family hasn’t been able find a place to really call a home. The seven of them have lived in 1,100 square foot apartment, doubling up in rooms just to create space.
Lighthall said the hardest thing is having to say "goodbye" to the extended family the town created — the "great school, great kids, great academics and we just fell in love with,” Lighthall said.
But it was a heart breaking decision his family, and many others since the Camp Fire, had to make.
“I wanted people to see that it’s real and not a sterile ‘I’m leaving,'" Lighthall explained. "I wanted them to see the reason I’m leaving, that it’s not some abstract idea. It’s affecting these kids. We ultimately need to do what’s best for our family and our own.”
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