Middletown schools impacted by Valley Fire reopen

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. (KGO) -- Students in fire-ravaged Middletown returned to school on Monday morning for the first time since the Valley Fire devastated their community. Classes at the middle and high schools, along with Minnie Cannon and Coyote Valley elementary schools, started at 9 a.m. And in addition to schools reopening, disaster recovery centers are opening today to help victims of both the Valley Fire and Butte Fire.

DONATIONS: How to help victims of the Valley Fire where you live

It was like the first day of school jitters all over again. Only instead of being nervous about meeting new friends, kids were worried about what to say to them.

"I'm not really sure how it's gonna go," said high school junior Danae Anthony. "There are so many people who have gone through a lot and I kind of don't know how to handle it."

You can see what some students have gone through just a few blocks away from school. Neighborhoods are still in ruins from the Valley Fire, which destroyed more than 1,200 homes.

School administrators expected some nerves and emotions as students headed back to class for the first time since the fire struck two weeks ago. They brought in extra counselors in case some students just need to talk.

"It's gonna be a day of lots of hugs, smiles, how ya doing, just trying to get back to some normalcy," said Middletown Middle School Principal Mitchell Tucker.

It's not quite normal. Middletown schools will also be accepting students from Cobb, where the school buildings are damaged. But even the visiting students say they are glad to get back to class.

PHOTOS: Crews battle devastating Valley Fire

"Yeah, he's ready to see his friends he hasn't seen 'em for two weeks and he's a social guy, so he's ready," said fire victim Jennifer McConlogue.

The hashtag #middletownSTRONG is everywhere. It's painted on cars and it's on t-shirts. A print shop in Rohnert Park donated 1,500 of them, which were given to each student. And the shirts are already giving the town a big boost. Students at Rancho Cotati High School raised $5,000 when they sold the tees last week. That money will help Middletown students buy athletic uniforms. If you want to buy a #middletownSTRONG tee, they'll be on sale at the high school for $10 each. If you want it shipped, the principal asks that you send a check directly to the school with your order and include an extra $15 for shipping.

"We have a lot of spirit it will really add to our community," said Anthony.

The adults in the community are still very much in rebuilding mode. New disaster recovery centers are opening Monday for victims who are trying to find state and federal assistance. But the children are getting back to the business of being kids, an important step in their healing.

"The town is really strong, I think we're doing good," said Middletown resident Rachelle Guzman.

Another sign of progress in the fight against the Valley Fire -- five geothermal plants that were damaged are back open. The plants, owned by Calpine at The Geysers, operated with restrictions the past two weeks. But as of Monday, all employees are back at work. Calpine has donated $100,000 to an employee support fund for those affected by the fire.

CalFire says the flames are now 97 percent contained.

Click here for full coverage on the Valley Fire.

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PHOTOS: ABC7 News reporters at the Valley Fire
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