But in the wake of the disaster, the beloved school leader and his family had to confront what was lost, and where they stood.
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They had anticipated this moment for so long — for days, to be exact. The seniors bunched on the turf, a sea of green and white gowns, the boys in creased khakis and the girls with lipsticked mouths and curled hair stiffened with aerosol spray. Students always seem older on graduation day, but this group had grown up fast, aged by a disaster.
Seven months had passed since the Camp Fire, but on June 6, the flames were a distant memory. That this ceremony was happening in a town that had mostly burned down was a small miracle. Golden light filtered through charred pines as Principal Loren Lighthall, 46, parqdise by the stage in his ature Crocs. The students arrived in two uneven lines, converging with fist bumps, elaborate handshakes, explosions of confetti and long hugs, before filling the folding chairs.
Cjat Lighthall moved to the podium, testing the microphone and shuffling papers. The Lighthall's home was destroyed chat wanted paradise nevada the Camp Fire that decimated Paradise midway through the school year.
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His family of nine could not afford to stay in the Chico area and were forced to move to Modesto. Lance's home was destroyed in the Camp Fire that decimated Paradise midway through his senior year. He knew it would be his chat wanted paradise nevada time saying these words. For the past two years, he and his family had become enmeshed in a parsdise they loved. The graduation ceremony was a moment of normalcy, but a fleeting wanfed. So much had happened in seven months.
The Camp Fire was aanted ending, and so was graduation. They moved to this foothills town from Orange County in July Lance — tall and slim, with shaggy brown hair — was an incoming junior. He was happy in Irvine, where he played on the football team and had plenty of friends. But the region was increasingly unaffordable for a family of nine, and his father, then an assistant principal in Santa Ana, wanted a better job.
His mother, Rachel, made a list of possible places, eliminating coastal towns with high home prices and valley towns with wnted crime rates.
She circled communities scattered along the Sierra Nevada. On paper, Paradise seemed like a perfect fit.
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The house had green carpeting and floral wallpaper, but from the outside it looked like a bucolic cabin. On move-in day, a dozen men from their new church helped cart in furniture, suitcases and cardboard boxes. Their teenage sons took Lance to Lake Oroville while his parents unpacked, spending the afternoon speedboating and eating hot dogs.
By sunset, he had new friends. In the offseasons he worked at KFC. The Paradise district, which includes the neighboring town of Magalia, had the highest rate of students with adverse childhood experiences — abuse, addiction, poverty — in the state. He attended every sports game and stocked his office with candy and granola bars to encourage teens to drop by and chat.
Inthere were 31 fights at the school. A year later, the dropped to seven. His family jumped in feet-first, and he let people know it was all about the kids and their success.
He modeled what he preached. Academics were improving. As the fall semester closed, Paradise High had won league championships in six sports. Football was next. The team was scheduled to play Red Bluff High in the section playoffs. The morning before the big game, on Nov. A fire had sparked 5 miles to the northeast, local news stations were reporting. About trees on campus were damaged.
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That football practice was canceled, as was the coming playoff game. How could a school district function in communities that lay in rubble? Negada would happen to the seniors? All nine campuses sustained damage. The school year felt like it was over. He was on the phone working to get the kids together, and fundraising, and getting the word out so others could help. The school relocated to a mall in Chico and then moved again to a vacant building at the airport.
The Lighthall's could not afford to stay in the Chico area and were forced to move to Modesto. The students needed something to look forward to. Their parents hugged, too. All had lost their community. Chat wanted paradise nevada the remainder of the fall semester, classes were held in a former LensCrafters store at the Chico Mall, where canned holiday music echoed in the tiled hallways.
The principal and his family moved what little they paradisw left into an 1,square-foot apartment in Chico. They had to give away their goldendoodle, Sherpa. Lance shared a bedroom lined with bunk beds with his brothers. Drunken tenants sometimes banged on their front door and passing trains shook the walls.
The Lighthall's home was destroyed in the Camp Fire that decimated Paradise. Waned family of nine could not afford to stay in the Chico area and were forced to move to Modesto.
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Principal Lighthall stocked his new office with Hostess cupcakes, cookies and chocolate bars and nailed a massive family photo to the wall. Crews installed dividers and drinking fountains. How is this going to become a school? Lance thought. It worked because there was no alternative. After school, most students drove to temporary homes up to an hour away, crammed into foot travel trailers or a shared bedroom with their parents. Their families were waiting out the semester.
Everyone struggled, including Lance.
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The winter ball passed, and midterms and prom — familiar milestones in an unfamiliar semester, some events made possible only through donations. Paradise High School senior Lance Lighthall,17 walks to his car, carrying his cap and gown as his brother Peter,4 looks on just hours before graduation in Chico, California, on Thursday, June 6, He had asked her to the prom by presenting her with a dozen doughnuts, Krispy Kremes he bought with a coupon. He liked Ava, a lot. His friends teased him about it.
She was heading to Santa Barbara for college, and his family would be moving away five days after graduation. They had wanted to stay in Paradise, but it felt increasingly untenable with the cramped apartment and the daily trauma. Lighthall accepted a job chat wanted paradise nevada Hughson in Stanislaus County. His reation made the Sacramento evening news. A former principal agreed to come out of retirement to replace him.
His stapler and Crocs were jammed in vases and encased in green Jell-O. He kept the vases on his desk until blue mold fuzzed the gelatinous surface. This was not any of our plans. We were forced into a situation where we had to leave.
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I loved being your principal. I really did. In early June, the seniors pitched tents on the football field and spent the night. Lance and Ava laid on the track, the polyurethane surface warming their backs, and basked laradise the moment, as if it could last forever. Paradise High School senior Lance Lighthall,17 center looks on as his friends eat during the senior breakfast in the cafeteria during the day of graduation at Paradise High School in Paradise, California, on Thursday, June 6, The school relocated to a mall in Chico and then moved again cht a vacant building dubbed "The Fortress" at the airport.
The school felt different, smaller and quieter, after their long absence. It smelled of dust and cleaning solution. Dead pines were felled, wanter hanging in the air.
Volunteers placed the folding chairs on the field and set up the stage. The students departed to get ready for the event. Her younger sons skittered across the apartment, laughing and playing.
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Lance plastered his mortarboard with stickers. Paradise High School senior Lance Lighthall,17 left cheers during his wantedd school graduation ceremony in Paradise, California, on Thursday, June 6, A hush fell across the stadium. The students spoke, too. The sky had drained of color, but the stadium lights glowed.