PLEASANT VALLEY -- Gov. Brian Sandoval told 23 first-graders in a school that survived a devastating wildfire last month that he wants to create a Nevada full of job opportunities by the time they graduate from high school in 2023.
Two hours after he announced his economic development plan to create 50,000 jobs in the next two years, the governor sat in a chair and spoke informally with students from Pleasant Valley Elementary School, halfway between Carson City and Reno.
"I put out a big plan that is dedicated to first-graders in the entire state of Nevada," Sandoval said. "We want a very great state when you grow up and finish high school or finish college so you will have great opportunities."
Sandoval said later that he chose the Pleasant Valley school because students were evacuated Jan. 19 when a fire quickly swept through the neighborhood, destroying 29 homes.
He said he did not ask the children about the fire because it might cause them anxiety.
The fire was caused by a man who dumped live fireplace ashes in his backyard.
"The firefighters and the first responders saved this school," the governor said.
But the fire destroyed homes as close as two houses from the school.
The first-grade teacher, Jennifer Protian, said that she lives three houses from the school and that the fire burned pine trees in her backyard. She credited her husband with saving the house by putting out small fires with six 2-liter bottles of 7 Up. He had to use the soda pop because the fire had burned the power lines and prevented them from using their well.
Counselors have talked with the children, but they show no signs of emotional distress from the fire, Protian said. None of the children in her class lost homes to the fire.
Sandoval asked the children what they wanted to do when they grew up. Many said they wanted to be veterinarians or soccer players. One wanted to be a football player. A girl wearing a long red dress said she wanted to be a "fashionista." Most of the children, obviously shy, gave one-word answers to the questions the governor asked.
Sandoval told them that he also wanted to be a veterinarian when he was a child, while his brother wanted to be a lawyer. Instead, Sandoval became a lawyer, and his brother is a veterinarian. The governor mentioned that he and his family have four dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs and a turtle.
First-grader McKenna Arreguini, 6, said she wants to be a Toys R Us employee when she grows up.
In response to a reporter's questions, McKenna admitted she was "very scared" during the fire.
"It burned down two houses on my street," she said.
But two boys in the class said they were not scared at all and enjoyed getting an unexpected bus ride to Reno.
Because of strong winds after the fire broke out, Principal Derrick Cordell said school police decided in a matter of minutes to evacuate the school and take the children to Damonte High School in Reno.
The evacuation plan called for them to be taken to closer Galena High School, but Vice President Joe Biden was speaking there at the time. Biden had to end his speech early and be evacuated because of the approaching fire. The fire burned to the edge of the Galena school property.
Pleasant Valley parents were notified by email or by a telephone message system where their children had been taken.
"It happened so fast, within five to seven minutes," Cordell said. "We had 120 mph wind gusts."
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