Vicki Steindorf is thankful she and her husband Dave now have three families, three dogs and four cats living with her.
The fourth grade teacher “at a school formerly known as Paradise Elementary” and Teachers Association of Paradise member says she’s grateful for escaping the fire, thankful that her students are safe with their families, and gratified she can offer displaced families a place to stay.
“I’m cutting them all off in two years, though,” Steindorf says with a laugh. “I can’t imagine going through this without my friends. We are stronger together.”
All three families are from Butte Creek Canyon, which just had evacuation orders lifted. “We believe their houses are all standing, but out buildings are burned. We’ll find out when they get back.”
They are retired educators Bruce and Kate Hicks, he from Butte College and she from the Oroville Unified School District, and their daughter Anna who is a sophomore at Chico High. David and Sabine Coffee are both teachers, he a fifth grade teacher at Durham Elementary and she is Steindorf’s teaching partner, and their daughter Tessa who is a junior at Chico High. Then there’s Bill and Elizabeth Brent. He is a teacher for Butte County Office of Education, coordinating the College Connections program.
The remodel Dave finished recently on their Chico home means there’s room for everyone to have their own space and to be together, or not be together, as the case may be. There’s a family in each of the three bedrooms and one in the office. The families have done multi-day rafting trips, so they’re used to being together. “I’m just pleased all four cats get along ok,” Steindorf added.
Thankful for escaping the flames “If you don’t have a place to go, come to my place for Thanksgiving,” is a message Steindorf has been sharing with friends and colleagues. She’s expecting 15 people Thanksgiving day. “As a kid I wanted to have the house where everyone could gather and I have it, especially now that it’s needed. How lucky am I.”
She feels thankful that all of her students got out.
“I got all my kids out, I escaped with four students and my teaching partner,” Steindorf says, when thinking of the November 8 Camp Fire. “I’m sticking with that for now.”
Like everyone who fled that day, their story is frightening. They didn’t get on the road until late because 18 students hadn’t been picked up. When a sheriff’s deputy arrived not realizing anyone was left at the school, he told them to leave – now! So, staff put students into various vehicles and left.
“I told Sabine – ‘We are not separating. You’re my best friend and if I’m dying today, I’m not dying without you’.” Steindorf jumped into Coffee’s car with her dog, a second grader, a third grader and two fourth graders. “We were the last ones to leave school. We broke all the laws, driving on the left side of the road,” Steindorf said. “Thank goodness we had the emergency binder with us. While Sabine was driving, I was texting parents, letting them know we had the kids” – and arranging for a place to meet.
Flames were all around, houses were exploding and it was so smoky and dark that Steindorf would watch for the white line on one side of the car and Coffee would watch for the yellow line on the other side so that they’d stay on the road.
The teachers talked with students about the plucky pioneers who had to travel in the olden days. “The kids said – ‘Isn’t it great we’re in metal cars. Being in those wooden covered wagons would be a bummer’,” she said. It took the better part of the day, but they made it safely and were able to unite students with their parents.
Like most teachers, she’s been in regular contact with parents, checking up on students and families. Thankful that she’s helping families stay together, Steindorf is now looking forward to next week when she can seee her daughter who is studying abroad in Spain for the semester.
I can’t believe how lucky I am. -Vicki Steindorf
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PHOTOS: Above – Vicki Steindorf (left) and Sabine Coffee in what was their classroom and (below) out as friends (Sabine is in the blue helmet). Bottom photos – What’s left of what Vicki and Sabine called “the island” – their joined portable classrooms. Vicki’s class was on the right, Sabine’s on the left.