Wildfire Survivor Resources

On this page you will find resources for wildfire survivors and supporters. I will add more information as good resources become available. — Laura Benjamin

Disaster Recovery Handbook and Inventory GuideAfter The Fire: FREE Tips for Wildfire Survivors (PDF)

Samaritan’s Purse: International Relief Agency – these charitable volunteers sifted through the ashes and debris for us in 98 degree heat. They did it for free and left us with a prayer and a bible. Saints!

The Disaster Recovery Handbook & Household Inventory Guide – a very useful resource! (I get no money for recommending it)

2016 Black Forest Wildfire Remembrance Day

MORE SURVIVOR TIPS FOR AFTER THE FIRE:

I am so VERY sorry for what you’ve been through. It probably seems surreal right now – like you’re living in a bad dream. You’re not sure what to do next. You might feel numb or angry. It seems like no one has answers. You’d like an instruction booklet, so you don’t have to figure this all out on your own.

After we lost our home in Colorado’s Black Forest Wildfire (2013) along with 500 other families, there were things I learned the hard way. Even though our community leaders did a great job of trying to make the recovery process easier, there were lessons that only wildfire victims would learn. No one has all the answers.

But I hope these tips make it easier for you. I know you’re not alone – you have friends, family and neighbors who are in this with you. But maybe it’ll help to hear from someone who has been through it and now years later, can share information to make your path easier.

First, I hope that everyone you care about was able to evacuate safely. That’s obviously the most important first step: get the people out. If you were able to also grab a few essentials (pets, papers, photos), even better.

Here’s what’s next:

Tip #1 – Find shelter. You might be able to stay in a shelter, with friends or family. If you have insurance, you might be able to stay in a hotel for a while. The Red Cross or community volunteers may have personal care items available for you.

Tip #2 – Get rest. There will be plenty of time ahead to solve problems, but right now you and your family should let your body and brain recuperate. Make rest a big priority since your ability to function will depend on thinking clearly in the weeks ahead.

Tip #3 – Get ahold of a notebook. Electronic or paper, it doesn’t matter. But you need something to jot down information like phone numbers, names, dates, to-do lists. Your mind will be a big black hole for a while. You will forget. You may repeat yourself, unable to remember having asked the same question just five minutes before.

Tip #4 – Call your insurance company. Tell them you want to file a claim. They will walk you through that process over the phone. They will assign an adjuster to your claim and that person will want to meet you at the property as soon as officials say it’s safe to go back in. Your adjuster should offer to send you an advance on the claim under your personal property category. It may be $5,000-$10,000. They’ll need a physical mailing address to which they will Fedex checks to you – perhaps the home of a family member or friends you’re staying with.

Tip #5 – Avoid thinking too far ahead. Make a plan for each day, then work your plan. You will be sorely tempted to remember all the things you’ve lost and it will bog you down emotionally. There will be time for that – in fact, it will be an important task in the very near future.

Tip #6 – Go to the bank. Open up a separate account for your insurance payments to be deposited/wired into. This will also be the account you use to pay contractors who clear the debris, remove trees, drill a well and build your new home if you choose to rebuild. It will make life easier to have this money in a separate account so you can track it. Avoid mingling it with your personal or business funds. Your insurance adjuster will want the bank info to facilitate wire transfers of future payments.

Tip #7 – Go to the post office. They should be able to hold your mail for pick-up for a period of time – usually a month. If you don’t want mail forwarded to the place you’re staying, then open a post office box. You will be surprised how many neighbors you will run into at the post office in the weeks ahead.

Tip #8 – Call the phone company, cable, utilities, newspaper delivery, garbage pick-up, landscaping company, etc. to give them your new mailing address. Tell them to suspend/cancel service on your account. You’d think this would be common sense, but they must get that instruction from you.

Tip #9 – If you were able to grab your computer, put an automated email response message to let people know you are fine and how you want them to reach you in the future. You may also want to put that message on your phone. You will soon become overwhelmed with emails and phone calls from concerned friends, family, business colleagues. If possible, ask one person to be your point of contact and be responsible for sending out group emails, creating a Facebook Group or sending group texts.

Tip #10 – Connect with counselors. You may not feel you need it right now, but it’s possible family members do. It’s common for wildfire victims to experience PTSD and counselors are trained to spot the symptoms. Better to make time for this now, than be faced with a more serious situation down the road.

Tip #11 – Ask for cash. Well meaning friends and family will want to donate stuff. The last thing you need is to worry about how to sort through, store or dispose of stuff. The best thing they can do for you right now is to listen and give you cash or gift cards. Definitely let them help you, but avoid accepting stuff. If it’s something you really think you might need in the future, have them hold onto it until you’re ready to cope with it.

Tip #12 – Avoid accepting burdens. This is a followup to #11. Caring people will say, “If there’s anything I can do for you, please just let me know.” They don’t realize this puts yet one more responsibility on your shoulders. You won’t have the energy to try and remember who has offered to do what. Again, if they want to help, they can give you cash or gift cards. Maybe sometime in the future you’ll need a shoulder to cry on. Ask them to stand by.

Tip #13 – Expect to have a meltdown, or two. The stress will build and come out at very unexpected times in unusual ways. It may not be tears. It might be anger. You might not feel capable of making yet one more decision. Cut yourself some slack. Ask family and friends to be patient with you during this time. Then revisit Tip #10 above.

These tips and more will be added to the PDF “After the Fire” booklet above. But this will get you started! –Warm wishes, Laura Benjamin