CCSS

R.1, R.2, R.4, R.7, W.2, SL.1, L.4 


Changed by Fire

Last December, Canyon, 14, and Sierra, 17, watched a wildfire destroy their California home. But these teens didn’t give up hope. Instead, they made a film to help their community heal. 

Matt Harbicht/AP Images for Scholastic, Inc (Canyon & Sierra)

Canyon and Sierra are standing where their house used to be.

    It was a windy December night in Ventura, California. Canyon and his older sister, Sierra, were hanging out after dinner. Suddenly, the lights in their house went off. 

    Then someone sent their mom a text: There’s a wildfire. 

    Their mom stepped outside. White smoke rose up in the distance. “Why don’t you pack a few things in case we have to evacuate?” she said. 

    Using flashlights, Sierra and Canyon went upstairs to their rooms. Canyon grabbed his GoPro and Kindle. Sierra gathered some photos and her video camera. They each took their computers and threw clothes into a suitcase. 

    They didn’t know it would be the last time they would ever set foot in their rooms.

    It was December in Ventura, California. The night was windy. Canyon and his sister, Sierra, were hanging out. Suddenly, the lights in their house went off.

    Their mom got a text: There’s a wildfire

    Their mom stepped outside. Smoke rose in the distance. She told Canyon and Sierra to pack a few things. The family might have to evacuate.

    The teens got flashlights. They went upstairs to their rooms. Canyon took his GoPro and Kindle. Sierra took some photos and her video camera. They both took clothes and their computers.

    They didn’t know it, but they would never see their rooms again.

    It was a windy December night in Ventura, California. Canyon and his older sister, Sierra, were hanging out after dinner when the lights in their house suddenly went out.

    Then their mother received a text: There’s a wildfire.

    Stepping outside, their mom could see white smoke rising in the distance. “Why don’t you pack a few things in case we have to evacuate?” she suggested.

    Using flashlights, Sierra and Canyon went upstairs to their rooms. Canyon grabbed his GoPro and Kindle, while Sierra gathered some photographs and her video camera. They each took their computers and threw clothes into a suitcase.

    The siblings didn’t know it would be the last time they would ever set foot in their rooms.

Getting Out

    When Sierra and Canyon came downstairs, they could smell the fire. Their mom was rushing to pack. “We need to leave,” she said. “Now.”

    As the family walked out the door, they were shocked by what they saw. High winds were causing the fire to move fast. “It was this wall of orange and yellow and red,” Canyon says. “It was terrifying.”

    Canyon and Sierra helped load the car. Black smoke filled the air and made it hard to breathe. “We could feel the heat,” Sierra says. “The flames were so bright it felt like daytime.” 

    As the family drove away, they passed two fire trucks speeding toward their street. The trucks’ sirens were blaring.

    Sierra and Canyon went downstairs. They could smell the fire. Their mom was packing. “We need to leave now,” she said. 

    The family walked out the door. They were shocked by what they saw. High winds caused the fire to move fast. “It was this wall of orange and yellow and red,” Canyon says. The teens were scared.

    They loaded the car. Black smoke filled the air. It was hard to breathe. They could feel the heat. “The flames were so bright it felt like daytime,” Sierra says.

    The family drove away. They passed two fire trucks. The trucks were speeding toward their street. The sirens were blaring.

    When Sierra and Canyon came downstairs, they could smell the fire. Their mother was rushing to pack. She spoke urgently: “We need to leave. Now.”

    As the family walked out the door, they were shocked by what they saw. Due to high winds, the fire was spreading rapidly. “It was this wall of orange and yellow and red,” Canyon recalls. “It was terrifying.”

    Canyon and Sierra helped load the car as black smoke filled the air, making it difficult to breathe. “We could feel the heat,” Sierra says. “The flames were so bright it felt like daytime.”

    As the family drove away, they passed two fire trucks with blaring sirens speeding toward their street.

Losing Everything

    The family spent that night with the family of Sierra’s best friend. No one slept well. The next morning, they turned on the news. The newscasters called the fire the Thomas Fire. They said it was one of the worst wildfires in California history. 

    Then the news showed the family’s neighborhood—and everyone gasped. 

    Almost every house was on fire or had burned to the ground. An hour later, they learned that their home—and everything in it—was gone too. 

    Their bikes, books, and beds had burned. Baby pictures, school projects, their PlayStation—everything had gone up in flames. All that was left where their house once stood was the brick chimney and a pile of ashes.

    “I didn’t want to believe it,” Sierra says. “My best friend held me, and we just cried.”

    They spent that night with Sierra’s best friend’s family. No one slept well. In the morning, they watched the news. The reporters said the fire was one of the worst ever in California. They called it the Thomas Fire.

    Then the news showed their neighborhood. They all gasped. 

    Most of the homes were on fire or had burned down. The family learned later that their home was gone too.

    Their bikes, books, and beds were gone. Everything was gone. All that was left was the house’s brick chimney.

    Sierra was shocked. “My best friend held me, and we just cried,” she says.

    The family spent that night with the family of Sierra’s best friend, but no one slept well. The following morning, they turned on the news. The newscasters called the fire the Thomas Fire and reported that it was one of the worst wildfires in California history.

    Then images of their neighborhood appeared on the screen—and everyone gasped.

    Practically every house was ablaze or had already burned to the ground. An hour later, they got the devastating news that their home—and everything in it—was gone too.

    Their bikes, books, and beds had burned. Baby pictures, school projects, their PlayStation—everything had gone up in flames. All that remained where their house once stood was the brick chimney and a pile of ashes.

    “I didn’t want to believe it,” Sierra remembers. “My best friend held me, and we just cried.”

A Community Project

Ryan Cullom/Ventura County Fire Department via The New York Times/Redux (1); Courtesy of Sierra Shannon (2); HILARY SWIFT/The New York Times/Redux (3)

    The family moved into a hotel two days later. Friends gave them clothing and food. Local businesses offered things for free, like bicycles, shoes, and movie tickets. The whole community was supportive. But it was hard not to feel angry and sad. 

    They talked as a family about what they could do to move forward. The wildfire had burned more than 200,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes. Canyon had an idea: What if they made a documentary about the fire? 

    Sierra and Canyon began interviewing others who had lost their homes in the fire. At first, hearing their stories was hard. But Sierra and Canyon also felt better knowing they weren’t alone. They began to see the documentary as a way to bring their community together. They called it From the Ashes Up.

    “We wanted people to know that it’s OK to be sad after something like this. But you don’t have to give up,” Sierra says. “You can turn what happened into something good.”

    Two days later, the family moved into a hotel. Friends gave them clothes and food. Local businesses offered free bikes, movie tickets, and more. People were very supportive. But it was hard not to feel angry and sad.

    The family talked about how to move forward. They talked about the fire. It burned more than 200,000 acres. It burned hundreds of homes. Canyon had an idea. The teens could make a documentary about the fire.

    Sierra and Canyon interviewed others who had lost their homes. The stories were sad. But the teens also felt less alone. They saw that the film could bring their community together. They called their film From the Ashes Up.

    “We wanted people to know that it’s OK to be sad after something like this. But you don’t have to give up,” Sierra says. “You can turn what happened into something good.”

    The family moved into a hotel two days later. Friends gave them clothing and food, and local businesses offered items for free, like bicycles, shoes, and movie tickets. The entire community was supportive—but Canyon and Sierra still struggled with feelings of anger and sadness.

    As a family, they discussed what they could do to move forward. The wildfire had burned more than 200,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes. Canyon had an idea: What about making a documentary about the fire?

    Sierra and Canyon began interviewing others who had lost their homes in the fire. Hearing their stories was painful at first, but the teens also found comfort in the knowledge that they weren’t alone. They began to regard the documentary—which they called From the Ashes Up—as a way to unify their community. 

    “We wanted people to know that it’s OK to be sad after something like this. But you don’t have to give up,” Sierra explains. “You can turn what happened into something good.”

Rebuilding

    As word of the film spread, more than 50 people reached out to help. They loaned the teens equipment and helped them with editing. It became a true community project. 

    Sierra and Canyon spent six months working on the documentary. Recently, they entered it in a local film festival. They also plan to show the film in their town. They hope it will help other people the way it helped them. 

    For now, the family is living in another house temporarily. But they have been slow to fill it with furniture and new belongings. Instead, they have focused on spending time together. 

    “The fire made me stronger,” Sierra says. “It made me realize that having a bunch of stuff isn’t important. Having a community of friends and family who love you matters most.” 

    Many people wanted to help with the film. People lent the teens equipment. They helped with editing. The film became a community project.

    The teens worked on the film for six months. They entered it in a film festival. They plan to show it in their town too. They hope their film will help others the way it helped them.

    The family is living in another house temporarily. They haven’t bought much furniture yet. They’re just enjoying their time together.

    “The fire made me stronger,” Sierra says. “It made me realize that having a bunch of stuff isn’t important. Having a community of friends and family who love you matters most.” 

    As word of the documentary spread, more than 50 people reached out to contribute. They lent the teens equipment and helped them with editing, and the film soon became a true community project.

    Sierra and Canyon spent six months working on the documentary. Recently, they entered it in a local film festival. They also plan to show the film in their town and hope it will help other people the way it helped them.

    Right now, the family is temporarily residing in another house—but rather than rushing to fill it with furniture and new belongings, they’ve chosen to focus on spending time together.

    “The fire made me stronger,” Sierra says. “It made me realize that having a bunch of stuff isn’t important. Having a community of friends and family who love you matters most.”

ACTIVITY: 
Cause and Effect

You’ve just read “Changed by Fire” It’s time to try this activity!

What to do: A cause is what makes an event happen. An effect is what happens as a result. In the chart below, fill in the missing causes and effects.

You’ve just read “Changed by Fire” It’s time to try this activity!

What to do: A cause is what makes an event happen. An effect is what happens as a result. In the chart below, fill in the missing causes and effects.

You’ve just read “Changed by Fire” It’s time to try this activity!

What to do: A cause is what makes an event happen. An effect is what happens as a result. In the chart below, fill in the missing causes and effects.

Cause: A wildfire spread through Sierra and Canyon’s town of Ventura, California.

Cause: A wildfire spread through Sierra and Canyon’s town of Ventura, California.

Cause: A wildfire spread through Sierra and Canyon’s town of Ventura, California.

Effect 1:

The fire burned 200,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes.

Effect 1:

The fire burned 200,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes.

Effect 1:

The fire burned 200,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes.

Effect 2:

HINTWhat did Sierra and Canyon lose in the fire?

Effect 2:

HINTWhat did Sierra and Canyon lose in the fire?

Effect 2:

HINTWhat did Sierra and Canyon lose in the fire?

Effect 3:

HINTHow did the community come together to help people affected by the fire?

Effect 3:

HINTHow did the community come together to help people affected by the fire?

Effect 3:

HINTHow did the community come together to help people affected by the fire?

Effect 4:

HINTWhat did Sierra and Canyon do to bring the community together after the fire?

Effect 4:

HINTWhat did Sierra and Canyon do to bring the community together after the fire?

Effect 4:

HINTWhat did Sierra and Canyon do to bring the community together after the fire?

Effect 5:

HINTHow did the fire make Sierra stronger?

Effect 5:

HINTHow did the fire make Sierra stronger?

Effect 5:

HINTHow did the fire make Sierra stronger?

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