After Woolsey Fire, Malibu teachers vow to rebuild

Photo by Jenny Hamel

Many who evacuated during the Woolsey Fire are returning to their homes, or to where their homes used to stand. Malibu residents, from movie stars to mobile park renters, have been affected, including 22 local educators who lost their homes in the fire.

The group includes art teachers, English teachers, nursery school directors, classroom aides and principals. KCRW spoke with several of these educators about their community, why they teach and how to find the resilience to rebuild.

Pat Cairns, retired principal and teacher at Malibu High and Juan Cabrillo Elementary

On holding onto great memories of her house
“Our daughter was married a month ago and we had a big party at our house the night before the wedding- a rehearsal dinner- and we had so much fun. We put up all these lights, had this great food and friends from out of state and from far away had come. You know I’ve been thinking that was the last party for the house, not such much for all of us, but it was just the house’s last party and it was a great one. So, those are the kinds of things I think of.”

Pat Cairns

On watching the fire from Zuma Beach
“Someone called it a ‘tornado fire’. I mean it just black smoke swirling around, coming down over the cliff by Zuma Beach. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. You see those pictures of tornadoes and that kind of thing on the news. But this was a big smoke, swirling, swirling, swirling around. And you know the smoke was so horrible, I can’t even imagine what it was like where the fire actually was.”

On the other educators who lost their homes
“They have a heart for other people, that’s why they’ve gone into education and I know every single one of the people who’ve lost their homes. I mean some of them are going to have a very difficult time. I hope the community supports them in some way, I would have my home go a dozen times before having these teachers lose theirs.”

Jennifer Gonzalez, A.P. English Teacher at Malibu High

On building her home in Malibu
“So we bought our property and we cleared the brush with our own hands. I cut my legs with chainsaw in the process. We were there through the whole process. We built a log home, so we had the logs was delivered. We took a week off work to stack the logs.My husband laid the cabinets, I installed insulation on the roof. You know that house was built with love from the community, it was built with our own two hands. It was where our daughter was born… Now the house may be gone, but we have all those memories and all those connections with people.”

On a former student’s parents who lost their house
“I ran into the elderly couple whose son I caught back in 1997 and they’re struggling, they haven’t been able to find a place to live yet. Her husband’s in a wheelchair. You know, they do have some insurance money but they don’t have a lot. People are jacking up rents in the area or at least some people of them are, not all. And you know your heart just breaks for these people because, I remember their son very clearly and these are his parents and you know they’re looking at a really uncertain future.”

Nicole Fisher, Art Teacher at Juan Cabrillo Elementary and Point Dume Marine Elementary

On getting back to school
“I am so anxious to see my students. I saw a couple of them that have lost their homes… I teach art. So my mindset is ‘How can art be part of the healing process for all of us.’ We were going to do a ceramic project this week and my bag of clay was sitting on the driveway. I pulled it out in order to make room in the car. And It did not burn! I can still use that!”

“[Educators are] Strong people. Strong people, incredibly giving people. I mean educators are givers and caretakers and they don’t do it for the money. I just hope that they get the support that they need so that they can continue to be in the community.”

 

Several teachers have started a GoFundMe page called the Malibu Wildfire Education Fund on behalf of the educators who lost their homes. The donations will go towards helping these fire victims with debris removal, housing, supplies etc.

We want to hear from you. What questions do you have about the fires?