By CASSIE GORMAN
As the sky filled with thick, dark smoke and flames peeked over the hill just a mile from his Cachagua home, Carmel High senior Alexis Lopez helped his family pack their belongings and load up 30 animals. Up until his evacuation, he was certain the Carmel Fire wouldn’t reach them.
Lopez evacuated to Seaside to stay until evacuation orders were lifted, but unlike most of those who fled from Carmel Valley, Lopez was not able to return home. He is one of the few CHS students who lost their homes to the fire.
The animals are all safe and lodging at a shelter in Marina. Lopez and his four family members are at his grandparents’ house in Seaside, and the new living conditions have been difficult to adjust to.
“My grandparents are sleeping in the garage,” Lopez explains. “My parents sleep with my brothers, and I sleep on my couch. In about a week we will move to a guest house, and we’re looking to rebuild.”
Alexis Lopez lost his Chromebook charger in the fire, but was given a new one, along with other materials, by CUSD. Still, he notes that moving houses, coupled with a limited work space, has made school challenging.
“It’s hard to deal with school and life,” Lopez notes. “I’m in a situation where I don’t have many options.”
Similarly, with only eight hours to pack, CHS junior Vincent Colon evacuated his home in Cachagua on Aug. 18. His house, which he had lived in his entire life, was severely damaged by the flames, and the family will have to rebuild.
“We hotel-hopped for a while,” Colon says. “We moved into a rental three days ago and just got a Wi-Fi plan. The break from school definitely helped.”
Now in the Monterey rental home, Colon has a room to work in, and because he was able to save his school supplies, he continues to attend online classes after the fire.
Meanwhile, sophomore Grace Nicholson lost her Cachagua home after the same evacuation order forced her to leave her home. Nicholson was not at home when the order was given, and her mother only had 15 minutes to pack the necessities for Nicholson and her family.
“It was weird getting used to at first,” Nicholson explains. “I went shopping with my dad, and I kept thinking, ‘Oh I have shoes just like that,’ but I don’t anymore. It’s weird having to remember losing something when my brain hasn’t even processed it yet.”
Since then the Nicholsons had been living at a close friend’s house until they moved to a rental on Sept. 3. With the abrupt move, school resuming posed a bit of a challenge. Nicholson had some of her school books with her at the time of the evacuation, but was not able to retrieve books for her American Sign Language class or English class, making the transition back to school even more difficult. She eventually got a replacement Chromebook charger and new American Sign Language materials, but has yet to receive the book for English and remains unsure if she will be charged by the school for the replacement materials.
As of this weekend the Carmel Fire is contained and is no longer growing, but it has caused irreversible damage in the community. While the majority of evacuated students were able to return to their homes and continue their daily lives, some underwent a life-changing event that will continue to affect their daily lives and their ability to manage online school.