California seniors return to campus for graduation 7 months after Camp Fire

PARADISE, Calif. -- When Paradise High School students arrived to campus on November 8, 2018, they had no idea that it would be the last time many of them would ever step foot in the building again.

On that day, California's deadliest wildfire began. The Camp Fire destroyed more than 15,000 homes and businesses in Paradise and the surrounding communities. Eighty-five people died in the fire.

But nearly seven months later, 222 students returned to the high school's football field for their graduation ceremony Thursday night, KXTV reported.

"My mom, my grandparents, they all graduated from here," said Isaiah Anderson, a graduate.

Students haven't been able to attend class at the school on Maxwell Drive over safety concerns due to ongoing water issues and dead trees.

People in Paradise have been advised not to drink or bathe in the water after contaminates were found in some samples.

During graduation, many students said they couldn't forget how much their lives had changed since the Camp Fire destroyed their hometown of Paradise.

"I feel like I kind of missed out on senior year at my high school," Jaycee Brawley said.

Former Paradise High School Principal Loren Lighthall said it's emotional knowing he won't be returning to the halls of the school. Lighthall announced in April that he was going to be principal at Hughson High School after he couldn't find housing for his family. The school is in a small town just south of Modesto and nearly 200 miles away from Paradise.

"It's been a lot of fun," Lighthall said. "I have my own graduate who is a senior and he's graduating. I got to do all the activities with the seniors, with him, his friends. It's been a ton of fun."

Brawley said she's excited and nervous about entering "real life," but she hopes to become a psychiatrist who can help people who've experienced similar losses.

"After the fire I went through so many emotions, and I just want to help people get through that," Brawley said.