Showing: 1 - 3 of 3 RESULTS

Impact of wildfires affecting residents’ mental health

Paulie Hawthorne is used to fire. She grew up in southeastern Oregon, long a hotbed for wildfires.

“I can remember, even as a kid, there were fires. I mean, it was just kind of a thing that happened,” Hawthorne, 47, said. Hawthorne and her husband had to evacuate in 2017 from their old home in Brookings, Oregon, during the 2017 Chetco Bar wildfire, which burned through more than 190,000 acres, including about 80,000 acres in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Today she lives in Klamath Falls, Oregon, a small city about 280 miles south of Portland that has seen frequent, low-intensity fires over the years. While her current exposure has been mild, when she smells smoke in the air or simply sees ashy skies, it pulls her back.

“The hardest part about evacuating is you just think it’s gonna be like a couple days, and we were out for almost a month,” she explained.

Paulie Hawthorne (Courtesy of Paulie Hawthorne)
Paulie Hawthorne (Courtesy of Paulie Hawthorne)

The lingering dread associated with fires isn’t unique to Hawthorne, and the wildfires that have devastated large chunks of Oregon and California aren’t just decimating towns and driving residents away. Mental health experts say the fear and uncertainty that comes with wildfires can cause long-term psychological impact on residents. Worse yet, just as the region is seeing a growing increase in people seeking therapy, there is a deficit in available therapeutic resources.

Darla Gale, a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in trauma and founder of Heartstrings Counseling in Loomis, California, said it is the unknown that is causing an abundance of stress and anxiety.

“We have had a tremendous increase in calls just in the last few months. It’s been overwhelming. I’ve had to hire seven more therapists to handle the load,” she said.

Many of her clients were previously victims of the 2018 Camp Fire, a deadly and damaging California fire that took nearly 90 lives.

“For the fire survivors, it’s the PTSD because of the smoke,” she said, using the acronym for post-traumatic stress disorder. But she also noted that some who survived the Camp Fire have now had to re-evacuate. It’s trauma on top of trauma.

Darla Gale, of Lumos, Calif., in her office. (Courtesy of Darla Gale)
Darla Gale, of Lumos, Calif., in her office. (Courtesy of Darla Gale)

Even residents who did not lose their homes say these wildfires have a lasting impact on their ability to manage daily life, even outside the direct path of destruction.

During the Two Four Two wildfire — which ravaged Klamath County, Oregon, in September — Hawthorne said she and her husband had trouble sleeping and were obsessively checking the sky and internet for information. Though they live some 15 miles away from the path of the fire, they simply didn’t feel safe.

“We both almost felt a compulsion to start getting our stuff together,” she said.

Hawthorne, who is a social worker and mental health therapist, said she is very familiar with the symptoms of trauma and PTSD. But that knowledge has not made dealing with wildfire anxiety any

After Wildfires Stop Burning, a Danger in the Drinking Water

Two months after a wildfire burned through Paradise, Calif., in 2018, Kevin Phillips, then a manager for town’s irrigation district, walked from one destroyed home to another.

Burned out cars, the occasional chimney and the melted skeletons of washers and dryers were the only recognizable shapes.

“You started to actually be shocked when you saw a standing structure,” he said.

Mr. Phillips, now Paradise’s town manager, was following the team taking samples from intact water meters connected to homes that were now reduced to gray ash. He knew from the Tubbs Fire in 2017 that harmful toxins were likely in the water distribution system: Rapid action would be needed to protect people returning to the community from the dangers of toxins like benzene, which can cause nausea and vomiting in the short-term, or even cancer over time.

Wildfires, which turned skies a dim orange over cities from Seattle to Santa Cruz this year, are increasingly engulfing people’s homes, continuing to rage in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado in recent weeks. But even when homes don’t burn, other dangers arise in the aftermath, and experts are focusing more attention on what happens to municipal water systems after a fire, when released toxins can get pulled into plumbing systems, and other damage can linger in pipes for years.

After the Paradise Fire, for example, tests reported in a new study showed benzene levels in drinking water at 2,217 parts per billion. The Tubbs Fire led to levels as high as 40,000 parts per billion. California health authorities say 1 part per billion is dangerous over the long-term, and 26 parts per billion is dangerous for short-term exposure. And many other compounds that end up in water after fire can also create health risks.

“It’s hard enough having the pandemic restrictions,” said Angela Aurelia, a resident of Boulder Creek in Santa Cruz County, whose home was partially damaged in August. “And then you have a wildfire, and you lose access to your home and then we can’t even go back home because the water isn’t likely safe to use.”

Mr. Phillips and some others who work to ensure the water flowing into homes is safe say they are following guidelines that are not designed for this kind of disaster.

After a fire, water in houses and in the underlying pipes “can become contaminated with an array of volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds” at levels that exceed the regulatory limits set by the state of California as well as the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said Amisha Shah, a water quality engineer at Purdue University. “It’s very clear it needs to be addressed.”

Volatile organic compounds, such as benzene, naphthalene and methylene chloride, have a low boiling point and can be dispersed into the air easily. Semi-volatiles, including chrysene and benzo(b)fluoranthene, have a higher boiling point but can be dispersed during, for example, a warm shower. Although not all of these compounds are harmful, some have been found to cause cancer in the

A family of 7 lost their home in Washington’s wildfires. Then they all got Covid-19

They have now quarantined themselves in two hotel rooms in Spokane Valley, where they’re recovering and trying to plan their futures.

The Grahams lost their home, a barn and outbuildings where they stored things they weren’t using, special baby clothes and other family mementos. Their dog was OK and their chicken coop was also spared, though some of the birds’ feathers may have been singed.

“We were planning to come back that night, so we didn’t pack a single thing,” Jessica said.

They stayed with family after the fire and think that’s how they were exposed to the coronavirus — Jessica’s dad had flu-like symptoms and Matthew’s mom tested positive on September 20 after she’d babysat the children.

“We were starting to experience symptoms at that time that we were hoping was just due to hazardous air quality,” Jessica said. “But then that had gone away and we were getting worse instead of better.”

Neither of their parents had to be hospitalized, but Matthew’s mom did have pneumonia in both lungs.

Jessica and Matthew have felt exhausted but think they’re on the way to recovery.

The kids, Constantine “Costa,” 12, Claudia, 10, 7-year-old twins Adele and Zoe, and 5-year-old Darius, have fared much better. Jessica said they’ve occasionally felt feverish but would be better the next day.

“They’re bouncing off the walls, but we’re so thankful that they’re healthy enough to bounce off the walls,” Matthew said.

The Glass and Zogg Fires are less than 10% contained and threaten even more destruction
He said the community has been incredibly generous and given the family toys, board games and clothes for the whole family. A GoFundMe campaign for the family has raised more than $21,000.

Jessica said rental homes are hard to find in the area, but they hope to find a more permanent place to stay once they get out of quarantine in a few days.

She said they’d like to stay in the community and are considering buying a new house or rebuilding “this amazing new house” on their property.

“That’s what keeps us optimistic,” she said. “We know one of those two outcomes is going to happen and we’re gonna just have something that’s even better than what we had before.”

Source Article