By Heather Janssen

GRIZZLY FLATS (CBS13) – Walt Tyler Elementary School was one of the many buildings up in flames overnight on Monday, as the Caldor Fire ripped through Grizzly Flats.

But despite the loss of the school, the community won’t let it burn them.

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Jennifer McKim and her kids have made themselves at home at a Plymouth RV Park, certain their home is gone, too.

“It feels like we are stuck in this nightmare we can’t wake up from,” McKim said. Her home nearly went up in flames a few weeks ago but was saved. This time, she’s unsure it was spared. Though, the loss of her son’s school adds to the nightmare.

“Finding out the school was gone was just the straw that broke the back,” she said.

The school has been known as a critical part of the community for more than 20 years.

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“It’s heartbreaking but it can’t define us,” McKim said. But what does define this community is their love for one another. That includes Pioneer Union Superintendent and Walt Tyler Principal Annette Lane, who spent the day at evacuation centers looking for students and their families.

“I just need to get my eyes on them so I know they’re safe,” Lane said. As for what’s next for the school, there’s hope it may be rebuilt one day but still not much is known.

“Last year we had COVID, and we weren’t sure what they were doing,” McKim said. “Now we’re right back there.”

McKim continues practicing positivity and focusing on the future, “Rise up like the phoenix.”

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School remains closed in the district while it works out plans on how to return when it’s safe. It’s likely, though, kids may be sent to another nearby school in the meantime.

Heather Janssen