By Marianne Curtis
When grass fires flared up in the Vita area last fall, the students at Shevchenko School were touched by the disaster on many levels. For the first time in recent history classes were cancelled due to smoke. Many students had parents and grandparents fighting the fires on the front lines or making evacuees and volunteers comfortable by making food and taking care of other needs.
After the Thanksgiving weekend students returned to classes with stories on how close the flames got to their personal residences or how their fathers returned from the fires exhausted to catch a few hours sleep before heading back out to protect homes and communities. The fire affected the student body at Shevchenko School greatly. The students banned together and sent a thank you letter, signed by each student, to the volunteer fire departments who fought the fires in the area.
“I was very frightened and felt nervous – I could not believe that such a big fire was burning that would cause my school to close,” the students stated in a letter to the fire departments. “We are grateful for your blood, sweat and tears – this also may include a blister or two and many scrapes and cuts you incurred while you were on duty – you are my heroes.”
Shevchenko School teacher Patricia Spraggs fought back tears as she recalled how her students reacted to the near disaster last fall.
“After the fire students were very upset – it was traumatic,” Spraggs says. “This was really big and the students were feeling at a significant loss. The students pushed to do something that would matter so we partnered with “Trees for Tomorrow” and came up with a plan.
On May 8, twenty-seven grade 6 students from Shevchenko School in Vita took their appreciation to a new level by spending a day planting 1000 Jack Pine trees in the Sandilands. The area was hit by a devastating forest fire in 2008 and over 8000 hectares of forest was destroyed.
“We were very happy to travel together to the planting area,” the students told the fire department in a second letter dated May 29. “Our teacher brought along a Canada Flag to mark the first tree – it made it really special and something to remember.”
Unfortunately a few days after the students planted the 1000 trees, the RM of Stuartburn was once again fighting three fires in the area.
“We were heartbroken to learn there were 3 new fires as of May 11 near us – we inhaled smoke in our homes and on our playground; our classmate was very concerned about the little jack pines we’d just planted,” the students told the fire fighters. “We understand the importance of taking the best care of the forest, farmland and out surroundings.”
In six years, before graduation, the students plan to return to the site to check on the trees and celebrate this event which touched them all.
On May 8, 27 students from Vita planted 1000 trees in a burnt out section of Sandilands Fires as a means to help give back after they were personally affected by grass fires last fall.