Video: Rising from the Ash - Middletown Strong
Watch MaxPreps report from the 2015 Valley Fire, which is adjacent to current Wine Country fires in California.
The football team at Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa, Calif.)
is scheduled to host unbeaten Rancho Cotate (Rohnert Park, Calif.)
the last week of the season in a game pitting two of the top small-school programs in Northern California.
The much-anticipated contest figured to be a fiercely competitive game to decide the North Bay League title.
That contest has taken on a whole new meaning over the last 48 hours.
Wildfires have ravaged at least five Northern California counties, including Sonoma County where Cardinal Newman and Rancho Cotate reside, and have claimed at least 17 lives, 3,500 structures and 170,000 acres.
As of Wednesday morning, more than 650 people are still missing, though cell service is spotty in the region.
Roughly half of Cardinal Newman's campus was burned to the ground, while the other half was untouched, including the school gym and football field.
"Half the school is unscathed, the other looks like a war zone," Newman coach Paul Cronin said. "That's how neighborhoods look, too. Some are untouched. Others look like third-world countries."
At least five players from the Cardinal Newman program lost their homes, Cronin said.
Cronin's own family — his wife and three children — are packed up and ready to be evacuated. One evacuation in his neighborhood, five minutes from the school, was called off Monday.
"The plan is to get things back to normalcy as soon as possible," he said. "We'll see what all the damage is, figure out how to get back on track and fix it."
First the team needs to be together and because all can't meet on campus, Cronin was seeking another place.
Enter Rancho Cotate coach Gehrig Hotaling, who offered Cronin and his team their gym and weight room while Cardinal Newman's is under repair.
Suddenly, the enemy is family.
"We can't thank them enough," Cronin said. "(Hotaling) said they had plenty of resources and wanted to share. Thanks to people and communities like that, we'll get there. Every day will be a little better. Certainly a better time than this."
Cronin planned to take Rancho Cotate up on the offer and will meet the team for the first time since the fires began Sunday night.
Football won't be at the forefront of this meeting, Cronin said. All athletic events in the North Bay League have been canceled this week, including Newman's home game with Montgomery (Santa Rosa), and the same with the adjacent Sonoma County League.
Many more football games have already been postponed too throughout the San Francisco Bay Area because of excessive smoke in the region.
"It's simply too dangerous to consider playing games at this point," NBL Commissioner Jan Smith Billing said. "And too many student-athletes, coaches and officials have lost their homes. We'll regroup over the weekend and figure out what to do next week."
Though football will eventually help heal, Cronin said, friendships will conquer all. The meeting at Cotate will be a great start.
"I anticipate there will be a lot of healing and hugs and making sure everyone is OK," Cronin said. "We'll also see how we can help those in need."
This is the second massive fire in three years in the region. The Valley Fire of 2015 claimed four lives, 1,900 structures and 1,250 homes in nearby Middletown of Lake County. (See video).
Parents of two former Cardinal Newman players, who were residents of Middletown, called Cronin first thing Monday morning to offer their support.
"This obviously stuck close to home for them," Cronin said. "They wanted to help. A lot of people want to help."