Teacher fleeing Camp Fire grabbed her cats and students' college application essays

Teacher fleeing wildfires grabbed essays

Chico, Calif. — It's been a month since high school teacher Virginia Partain escaped from Paradise, California. She had just renovated her home after her husband died five years ago. 

Now, nothing's left.

"Kind of at a loss as to what happens next," she said.

When the fire swallowed her town, the only things she grabbed besides her cats were her students' college application essays.

"There's a part of us that we're always the teacher and they had to get their essays done to get into college," Partain said.

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English teacher Virginia Partain CBS News

Paradise High School is still standing, but there's no power or water and no one's allowed back. 

Partain has taught English for more than 20 years and helps seniors with their college essays. But she hadn't seen most of her students until they came together for the first time since the fire.

Their temporary classroom is a former LensCrafters at the mall in nearby Chico. With more than 95 percent of Paradise destroyed, students have been displaced around the country.

"We just want to bring a sense of healing back to our community," Partain said.

Each reunion with a student brought comfort and pain. One of Partain's students is 17-year-old Harmony Von Stockhausen, a senior who wants to become a physician's assistant.

"I'm actually really excited to be back at school. I'm glad that we at least have this and it's bringing all the students together," she said.

Her essay is one of those that Partain saved.

"I know that I go to school tomorrow, and I teach the kids and I bring them hope, that it's gonna be okay, that we'll make it through this," Partain said.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help students from Paradise High School.

  • Elaine Quijano
    Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.