EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Ruidoso Municipal Schools reopened on Tuesday morning after a week-long shut-down due to the raging McBride fire.
The fire has since been 84 percent contained, allowing residents to go back to their homes and school officials to examine the area for any potential hazards.
Dr. George Bickert, superintendent of Ruidoso Municipal Schools, said Monday the crews were inspecting all school buildings for any potential damage and, luckily, haven’t found any.
However, the area around Ruidoso Middle and High school was fairly damaged with charred ground and knocked down trees.
Dr. Bickert said students might still be able to smell smoke in the area, however, that will diminish over time.
He explained they are reopening the classrooms with the main goal – to make sure students, teachers, and staff are taken care of and that their wellbeing takes precedence over the curriculum.
On the first day, Ruidoso Middle School principal Cecily Hooker explained, teachers and staff had an early morning meeting to discuss the plan for Tuesday’s classes.
She said teachers were instructed to encourage conversations about the fire, evacuation, and the entire experience to help students process their emotions.
Several high school students and a middle school student KTSM 9 News got in contact with shared how they felt during the evacuations.
Students explained they felt safe and described the evacuation as quick.
Middle school math teacher Anna Weaver said, “as chaotic as it was outside the building, within the building, very calm and calculated on what our strategy was.”
Principal Hooker explained that schools have predetermined plans in case of emergencies, such as fires, and solutions for every scenario.
In this case, as the fire came creeping closer to the middle school, their communications system went down.
However, on that day, students were in the middle of finishing their standardized state testing, during which teachers were required to communicate through radio.
They were then able to receive information to proceed with the evacuations.
Students were all brought out of the classrooms and boarded onto school buses that drove to the Convention Center downtown, where the rest of the town’s evacuees were set up.
Weaver said another thing that helped with prompt evacuations was that many teachers had experience with emergency response services.
Head football coach and Athletic director Kief Johnson hopped onto bus driver duty to help children from high school and middle school evacuate.
“We have a culinary teacher who married a firefighter, an eighth-grade teacher who fights fire on the summers, you know. I was EMS before becoming a teacher. So we have a lot of skills within our building. That really does help with situations like this,” she explained.
As students returned on Tuesday, principal Hooker shared what she had witnessed in the hallways.
“The vibe in the hallway I saw lots of kids hugging, lots of laughter, saying ‘you’re safe, I’m so glad,” she said.
RELATED STORY: 1 week later: McBride Containment at 84%; Nogal at 70%
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