British Columbia

Students in wildfire-affected areas of northern B.C. on standby for school start

Classes start across the province next week, but for students in wildfire affected areas of Northern B.C., it’s not clear when they will be heading back to school.

Schools in the Bulkley-Nechako district under evacuation alerts and orders

Looking out from the parking lot of Nechako Valley Secondary School. Staff will decide Thursday whether or not classes will start next week. (School District 91 Nechako Lakes)

Classes start across the province next week, but for students in wildfire-affected areas of northern B.C., it's not clear when they will be heading back to school.

A number of schools in the Nechako Lakes district west of Prince George are under evacuation alerts and orders, including David Hoy Elementary and Fort St. James Secondary.

The school in Grassy Plains is also under an evacuation order.

"Families are wondering and stressed about what the school start is to look like," said Manu Madhok, the superintendent of the Nechako Lakes School District.

Decision this week

The school's staff will decide by Thursday whether to delay the start of school or set up temporary classrooms in Burns Lake, about an hour's drive north.

"We're waiting to get some more information from B.C. Wildfire Service," said Madhok.

Madhok has been in contact with other school districts that have gone through similar experiences and says counselling resources are available for students.

A cabin on an island in Francois Lake this summer. (Tracy Calogheros/Facebook)

"It's been traumatic," he said. "[We're] making sure we've got strategies in place to help kids cope with whatever they need to cope with."

Students in Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake, Burns Lake and Francois Lake are set to return to school on Sept. 4.

Looking back to last year

Last year, schools in the Cariboo region faced a similar situation coming out of the 2017 wildfire season.

During the summer, entire school districts of children had been displaced and, as the first day of classes loomed, several schools were still under evacuation orders.

"It was just unpredictable," said Murray Helmer, president of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers Association.

"There was just no way of knowing what to expect on day one or when day one would be for some of the schools."

The parking lot of Nechako Valley Secondary School where fire trucks have set up. (School District 91 Nechako Lakes)

Returning to school has its challenges, he said, from the slow trickle of students returning to the area to moving back into buildings that had housed RCMP and firefighters during the wildfires. 

"You have to be flexible and realize that it was a totally different world before you got there and it's going to take time to put it all back together again," he said.

"Just the fact that you are back in school and back in a regular routine helps."

With files from Nicole Oud and Daybreak North.

Read more from CBC British Columbia.