Posted: Sep 4, 2013 8:13 AM by Russ Thomas - MTN News
LOLO - Along the edge of the Lolo Creek Complex Fire off U.S. Highway 12 stands the century old Woodman School, and on Tuesday students headed back to class the first time since the blaze started.
It should come as no surprise that the first topic discussed on the very first day of school at Woodman School in Lolo was the Lolo Creek Complex Fire, a blaze that threatened to burn the school down less than two weeks ago.
The burn spots can still be seen just yards away from the school grounds, and parents like Todd Whitman say they felt concerned and helpless when the blaze blew up.
"It was kind of emotional trying to figure out, my daughter was all jacked to go, and we weren't sure we were going to be able to come up here or if we were going to be stuffed in the gym there at Lolo [School]. It was up in the air."
"This is just such a gem in Montana, you know, [I was] nervous for our school and for our community. How it was going to affect everybody because we all love each other down here...it's like a family," added parent Joanna Vanderwall.
The theme of a tight-knit family is one that is shared by the parents and school staff.
Long-time secretary and teacher's aide told us Jean Dixon watched the fire approaching - and the fire crew battling the blaze - as she looked out her window and worried about the children.
"Is everything okay? Are we going to be alright? Are we going to be able to start school? That all comes down secondary to the welfare of the kids, and how they are going to associate everything with this and how much trauma, or lack of it is going to occur with them," she explained.
The threat didn't just wear on the minds of parents and staff, but the students, too - especially those who have attended the school long enough to have built up fond memories of friendships and classroom experiences.
"[I was worried] that it was just going to be demolished and that we wouldn't have a school this year," sixth grade student Isabell Gillard told us.
But in the end, it was the fairy tale ending that the community desperately hoped for as the tireless work of the fire crew paid off, bringing a sense of relief on this first day of school.
The Woodman School community told us that they want to express their heartfelt thank you to all of the firefighters who saved the historic school.