For most folks, getting ready to go back to school means trips to the store to buy needed clothing and supplies. But in towns such as Lakeport, in the region being burned by the Mendocino Complex Fires, "back to school" centers around massive cleaning projects in three hard hit school districts.
In fact, the air is so bad in Lakeport, sports teams can't practice outside and the event rooms and halls within the district need a head-to-toe scrub.
KTVU first encountered serious ground smoke in Middletown, thirty miles south of Lakeport. As we got closer to Lakeport, the smoke became thicker and smellier. That deeply impacted the Lakeport Unified School District, which has 1500 students spread over five sites.
"We've had four years of fire. So, we are used to some of the negative effects of the fire," said Lakeport School’s Superintendent April Leiferman.
From those previous fires, the school districts around here came up with the wildfire equivalent of snow days. They’re called smoke days.
"As superintendents in the county, we sat down and said, 'At what point do we allow students to come to school but not go outside and have a smoke day following those recommendations? And, at what point do we have to call off school?'" asked the Superintendent.
With so much dust, ash and smoke damage to school property, school officials decided on smoke weeks. "When we took a look and put all of that together, kind of a timeline, not a date on a calendar, but more what has to happen before it's safe for children to come to school, it was looking like a minimum of about two weeks," said Leiferman.
The district then called on the local Serve Pro franchise because of its experience. "We got all the public schools in all of Santa Rosa and that was huge. That really taught us how to clean schools. We learned what it looks like, how to work with the insurance companies and how to be friends with the principals and stuff,” said Serve Pro's Kristyn Jameson, a Kelseyville school teacher whose family owns the Serve Pro franchise.
For the school district, cleanliness of the facilities is a basic right for students and staff. “It wouldn't have been safe for the students to come back, breathing in the air. We got our air scrubbers in as soon as we could before our crews even started the cleaning process," said Jameson.
Other kinds of pre-opening activities will take time as well which is why Lakeport, nearby Upper Lake and Lucerne schools have agreed to all open their doors to students on Aug. 22.
If preparations need more than two weeks, the schools will adjust to insure stability and safety.